NASA launches satellite to track Earth's melting ice

Michele Stevens
September 18, 2018

The ICESat-2 was sent into orbit by a Delta II rocket from Vandenberg Air Force base in California at 6.02am (2.02pm United Kingdom time).

NASA on Saturday will launch its most advanced laser device into space to measure changes in the heights of Earth's polar ice, as well as other topographical features.

Boeing - working as part of ULA - has completed the 100th consecutively successful launch of its 30-year-old Delta II rocket, bringing to an end the vehicle's storied history of missions for the United States military, NASA, and commercial customers. The early moments of the flight appeared same old because the vehicle accelerated in the direction of orbit.The Delta 2 debuted in February 1989 when it launched the principle operational International Positioning Scheme satellite from Cape Canaveral.

While 50 lucky social media users will get to experience the action right from Vandenberg, as reported by the Inquisitr, the rest of the world can tune in on NASA Live to watch the last flight of the Delta II rocket. The satellite will carry a single instrument, the Advanced Topographic Laser Altimeter System (ATLAS), which measures the travel times of laser pulses to calculate the distance between the spacecraft and Earth's surface.

Measurements will be taken every 2.3 feet (0.7 meters) along the satellite's path.

This weekend, NASA is planning to launch a spacecraft that will use half a dozen bright-green laser beams to measure seasonal and annual changes to Earth's icy poles.

The early morning launch was visible as the rocket's exhaust plume was illuminated by the morning sun.

"It's been a very, very prominent part of space history", said Scott Messer, program manager for NASA programs at ULA, during a pre-launch press conference Wednesday (Sep. 13).

ICESat-2 boasts a fearsome pair of lasers (the second is a backup), which will fire at a rate of 10,000 times per second.

The laser is created to fire 10,000 times per second, divided into six beams of hundreds of trillions of photons.

"Watching and understanding how it [ice] is changing helps us understand why it's changing", said Waleed Abdalati, a geographer at the University of Colorado in Boulder and a concept designer of ICESat-2. ICESat-2 was first proposed in 2008, but construction didn't begin until 2010, with an estimated launch date in 2015. ICESat-2's orbit will make 1,387 unique ground tracks around Earth in 91 days and then start the same ground pattern again at the beginning.

Today's launch will be met by favorable weather conditions, the space agency announced yesterday, although the area's propensity for fog might hinder the locals' plans of watching the rocket blast off into space.

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