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NASA satellite launched to measure Earth's ice changes

16 September 2018

A Delta II rocket blasted into the history books while carrying a NASA newest Earth-observation satellite into space at Vandenberg Air Force Base early Saturday morning.

The 40-minute launch window opened at 5:46 a.m. Liftoff was delayed until 6:02 that the United Launch Alliance team would have more time to fix a potential temperature issue.

ICESat-2's only instrument is a laser system created to measure the height of Earth's surface - most importantly, sea ice's height. Commercial customers also moved to larger launch vehicles, leaving NASA as the primary user in the vehicle's final years. The round trip is timed to a billionth of a second.

"I'm a little bit sad".

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.

NASA officials said the satellite's primary instrument will pulse its laser at Earth 10,000 times a second and precisely measure the time it takes the beams to bounce off the ground and return to ICESat-2 to determine the elevation below. With that data, scientists can forecast its likely impact on the world.

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NASA kicked off its ICESat-2 mission to monitor our planet's ice sheets from space using a laser-scanning satellite this morning, with a launch that marked the end of a almost 30-year run for United Launch Alliance's Delta 2 rocket.

Importantly, the laser will measure the slope and height of the ice, not just the area it covers. Twenty-three minutes later, the stage fired again to set up the release of four small satellites.

Meanwhile, the ICESat-2 mission is getting underway.

After the satellite's separation, ULA's Tory Bruno announced that an unpurchased Delta II rocket will join the "rocket garden" display at Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex at Cape Canaveral Florida. Once a mainstay of both government and commercial customers, the vehicle went through a gradual phaseout after the U.S. Air Force shifted payloads like Global Positioning System satellites to EELV-class rockets, including ULA's Atlas 5 and Delta 4 and, more recently, SpaceX's Falcon 9.

ICESat-2 will operate in a series of orbits that will travel over the poles to allow it to monitor the ice sheets and glaciers, many of which are undergoing significant change.

NASA satellite launched to measure Earth's ice changes