NASA launches laser satellite ICESat-2 to measure ice loss

NASA Counts Down to Launch of Laser Study of Ice Sheets

A Delta 2 rocket carrying the ICESat-2 lifted off from Vandenberg Air Force Base at 6.02am local time on Saturday and headed over the Pacific Ocean.

A NASA satellite created to precisely measure changes in Earth's ice sheets, glaciers, sea ice and vegetation was launched into orbit from California early Saturday.

United Launch Alliance (ULA) is retiring the Delta II as it focuses more on its Delta IV and Atlas V rockets.

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". This was the 155th Delta II rocket launched from both California and Florida launch centers.

Delta 2 rockets have launched scores of satellite telephone relay stations, seven Mars missions - including the Pathfinder, Spirit and Opportunity rovers - numerous NASA astronomy missions, Earth observation satellites and commercial payloads. As its successor, ICESat-2 will fill in more detail about the bigger picture by examining how ice cover changes over the course of one year.

With more than a century of combined heritage, United Launch Alliance is the nation's most experienced and reliable launch service provider.

It is the U.S. space agency's most advanced laser satellite and will use its range of capabilities to accurately measure sea levels and sea ice cover.

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The launch is a follow up to a satellite that was launched in 2003 and operated until 2009, the AP reported.

The launch was conducted from the Vandenberg Air Force Base in California and was broadcast live on the company's website.

NASA had earlier in the day said the weather is favourable for the launch. We can use the two-way travel time of that laser pulse to accurately and precisely get a sense of the height of the surface of the earth. The satellite is equipped with an Advanced Topographic Laser Altimeter System (ATLAS), which will send 10,000 laser pulses per second to Earth to measure the height of ice sheets, glaciers, forests and bodies of water.

The laser will fire 10,000 times per second into six beams that will shoot hundreds of trillions of photons. Measurements will be taken every 0.7m along the satellite's path.

ICESat-2 suffered delays because of problems with ATLAS, notably a failure of one of its lasers.

Along with launching ICESat-2, the Delta 2's second stage also carried four small cubesats developed by university researchers.

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