NASA satellite launched to measure Earth’s ice changes

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154 successful mission later, Delta II is to be retired, and ULA announced this weekend that the final resting place of the launcher will be the Rocket Garden at NASA's Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Cape Canaveral, Florida.

ICESat-2 (Ice, Cloud and Land Elevation Satellite-2), which launched Saturday from NASA's base in California, will be able to measure the height of features on Earth, helping scientists to track patterns such as melting glaciers.

The mission is a successor to the original Ice, Cloud and Land Elevation Satellite that operated from 2003 to 2009.

A large sticker on the side of the huge launch pad noted the role of workers for the Delta II missions through the years saying "Dedicated to all the Employees, Suppliers, Customers and AF Range personnel who designed, built and launched the Delta II between 1989 and today". "It was a very challenging mission to come up with", said Doug McLennan, ICESat-2 project manager at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, during a prelaunch briefing September 13. Launching from the same air base, ICESat-2 will monitor the planet's polar ice with a new-generation laser instrument dubbed ATLAS (Advanced Topographic Laser Altimeter System).

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ICESat-2 is meant to last three years but has enough fuel to continue for over a decade, if mission directors decide to extend its life.

ICESat-2 will measure Earth's ice sheets from space with a laser.

It measures height by precisely timing how long it takes individual photons of light from a Laser to leave the satellite, bounce off Earth and return to the satellite.

"Three, two one, liftoff!" said a launch commentator on NASA television.

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The laser will fire 10,000 times per second into six beams that will shoot hundreds of trillions of photons.

It will take a measurement every 2.3ft (70cm) along the satellite's path.

Its operators, Lockheed Martin and Boeing's joint United Launch Alliance, are switching over to their existing Atlas V and Delta IV Heavy fleets as well as the still-in-development Vulcan Centaur rocket. They will study space weather, how electrons are liberated from the Van Allen radiation belts and experimental technology that could prove useful for future spacecraft. "We are really looking forward to making those data available to the science community as quickly as possible so we can begin to explore what ICESat-2 can tell us about our complex home planet". During its operational life, it also sent up the Kepler telescope, the twin lunar-orbiting GRAIL spacecraft, and a total of 48 Global Positioning System satellites.

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