Published: Sat, September 15, 2018
Research | By Jody Lindsey

NASA satellite launched to measure Earth's ice changes

$1 billion ICESat-2 mission will use advanced lasers to uncover the true depth of the melting of Earth's ice sheets.

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

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).

The satellite will provide measurements that will build on those provided by the original ICESat, which has operated in conjunction with Operation IceBridge, an airborne mission to document change.

The last similar mission was launched in 2003 and lasted for six years.

The launch marked the unprecedented 100th successful flight of the Delta II rocket built by the United Launch Alliance (ULA), which over the course of 30 years lofted the first Global Positioning System satellites, deployed commercial telecommunication constellations and sent NASA robotic probes to explore and study the moon, Mars and the asteroids.

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"If you think about that, the Delta II vehicle has touched the life of probably every single person in America in the technology that it has enabled over its 30 years", Messer said.

"I'm a little bit melancholy about this", said Tim Dunn, NASA launch director.

"And that incredible timing precision will allow us to measure elevation changes across the entire ice sheet to less than a centimeter", he said "And this is important, since an elevation change of just a centimeter over an ice sheet the size of Antarctica represents a tremendous amount of water, either gains to or loss from the ice sheet - 140 gigatons worth".

The Delta II had its first successful launch on Valentine's Day, 1989. "Delta 2 holds a really special place in so many folks' hearts".

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 10-foot-diameter (3-meter) payload fairing, which was similarly disposed of about 4 minutes later as the rocket climbed into space.

ICESat-2 was expected to be released into a 300-mile-high polar orbit about 52 minutes after launch.

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