NASA blasts off space laser satellite to track ice loss

Final Delta 2 rocket launch puts NASA’s ICESAT-2 satellite in orbit to monitor ice

The satellite with a three-year mission was launched at 9.02 a.m EDT on September 15, with liftoff aboard a Delta II rocket from Space Launch Complex-2 at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

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.

The launch was ULA's Delta II rocket's 153rd success - and its last because ULA is retiring the model.

The maiden Delta II took flight on Valentine's Day in 1989, successfully delivering the first operational Global Positioning System satellite into space.

For its 155th and final mission, the Delta II flew in its 7420-10 configuration, outfitted with four Graphite Epoxy Motor (GEM) side-mounted boosters, which were jettisoned 1 minute and 22 seconds into the flight, and a [3m]-diameter payload fairing, which was similarly disposed of about 4 minutes later as the rocket climbed into space. ICESat-2 is the NASA's most advance laser instrument - the Advanced Topographic Laser Altimeter System, or ATLAS.

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

ICESat-2 carries a single instrument, the Advanced Topographic Laser Altimeter System (ATLAS), which is created to measure the thickness of the Earth's ice sheets using a laser light split into six beams that pulse 10,000 times per second.

The new laser will fire 10,000 times in one second, compared to the original ICESat which fired 40 times a second.

In just a few short moments, NASA and United Launch Alliance (ULA) are about to make history with an epic rocket launch that has been the talk of the scientific community for the past months. Based on the time it takes for the pulses to return to the satellite, scientists will be able to calculate the height of ice sheets, glaciers and vegetation.

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

Instead, ULA President and Chief Executive Tory Bruno announced after the ICESat-2 launch that this final Delta 2 will be given to the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex to be put on display in its "Rocket Garden" of launch vehicles.

"Set your alarm to see lift-off - no earlier than 8:46am ET", NASA tweeted a few hours ago. ICESat-2 will orbit from pole to pole, taking measurements all along the way but offering the densest height maps near the poles.

The Delta II has carried the majority of the Iridium communication satellites in orbit between 1998 and 2002.

It will take a measurement every 2.3ft (70cm) along the satellite's path. "Space weather research is also crucial for space tourism and space exploration".

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