Final Delta 2 launches ICESat-2

Final Delta 2 launches ICESat-2

Final Delta 2 launches ICESat-2

The USD 1 billion, half-ton ICESat-2 launched aboard a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Delta II rocket from Vandenberg Air Force base at 6:02 am (local time).

United Launch Alliance will use the last of its Delta II rockets to put NASA's ICESat-2, an earth-observation satellite, into orbit in a mission scheduled to lift off before dawn Saturday. The primary payload, NASA's Ice, Cloud and land Elevation Satellite 2 (ICESat-2), separated from the second stage about 53 minutes after liftoff, followed by four cubesat secondary payloads more than 20 minutes later. Thanks to ICESat-2, the rocket went out with a streak of 100 successful launches in a row.

Because the satellite's instrument can shoot six laser pulses - not just one - at high speeds, ICESat-2 will be able to observe changes in sea ice coverage and thickness in unprecedented detail.

NASA earth science division director Michael Freilich says the mission will advance knowledge of how the ice sheets of Greenland and Antarctica contribute to sea level rise.

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.

This is "one of the most incredible machines we've ever launched into space", ICESat-2 program scientist Tom Wagner said in a statement.

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NASA's Launch Services Program, based at Kennedy Space Center in Florida, is responsible for launch service acquisition, integration, analysis and launch management.

The laser on the satellite fires 10,000 times a second while travelling at a speed of 7km (4.3 miles) a second, from a height of 300 miles (482km). It will help scientists calculate the height of the planet's terrain and track changes in glaciers, sea ice, lakes, and forests.

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

Measurements will be taken every 2.3 feet (0.7 meters) along the satellite's path.

The early morning launch was visible as the rocket's exhaust plume was illuminated by the morning sun. With that data, scientists can forecast its likely impact on the world. On its last journey into space, the Delta II rocket will also give a ride to a pair of mini-satellites called ELFIN (Electron Losses and Fields Investigation), NASA revealed yesterday. 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.

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