Monday, 24 September, 2018

NASA satellite launched to measure Earth’s ice changes

You Can Watch NASA Launch a Laser-Toting Ice Tracking Satellite Saturday. Here's How The second stage of ICESat-2's rocket is lifted onto the booster on the right in June 2018. Credit NASA Randy Beaudoin
Elijah Vega | 16 September, 2018, 15:06

The NASA payload Delta II launched earlier this morning is known as ICESat-2 (short for Ice, Cloud and land Elevation Satellite) and weighs in around 1500 kg (3300 lb), all dedicated to a scientific instrument known as ATLAS (Advanced Topographic Laser Altimeter System). The scheduled time was 5:46 a.m. but it had a 40-minute launch window.

ICESat-2's only instrument is a laser system created to measure the height of Earth's surface - most importantly, sea ice's height.

Liftoff occurred slightly later than iniitially planned to give the team time to assess a questionable temperature reading involving the rocket's second stage.

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.

"I'm a little bit melancholy about this", said Tim Dunn, NASA launch director, at the briefing. "ICESat-2 is going to do cutting-edge, scientific data gathering".

Satellite separation occured approximately an hour after the Delta II rocket's departure.

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The launch was the 155th and final flight of the Delta 2, which first launched in February 1989. It will do this by calculating how long it takes for individual photons that leave the instrument to ricochet off Earth and return to the satellite. Commercial customers also moved to larger launch vehicles, leaving NASA as the primary user in the vehicle's final years.

The United Launch Alliance (ULA) Delta II rocket with ICESat-2 onboard blasts off from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. Twenty-three minutes later, the stage fired again to set up the release of four small satellites.

ICESat-2's commissioning process, which takes 60 days, won't start for at least two weeks.

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.

ICESat-2 will add height measurements - accurate to a fraction of a centimeter - to the mix.

Launch was delayed 16 minutes by a minor technical glitch, but the final moments of the countdown went smoothly and the slender rocket quickly vaulted away from its firing stand at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., arcing away to the south over the Pacific Ocean.

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