NASA launches satellite to track Earth's melting ice

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

A United Launch Alliance Delta 2 rocket carrying a $1 billion NASA environmental satellite climbs away from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., kicking off the program's 155th and final flight.

A United Launch Alliance Delta II rocket carrying NASA's Ice, Cloud and land Elevation Satellite-2 spacecraft lifted off from Space Launch on September 15 at 6:02 a.m.

The launch of ICESat-2 marks the first time in almost a decade that NASA has had a tool in orbit to measure ice sheet surface elevation across the globe.

ICESat-2 continues the record of ice height measurements started by NASA's original ICESat mission, which operated from 2003 to 2009, that were continued by the agency's annual Operation IceBridge airborne flights over the Arctic and Antarctic, which began in 2009. (The last failure was in 1997, when a Delta II carrying a Global Positioning System satellite exploded seconds after leaving the pad.) As noted by the Verge, prior payloads have included the Spitzer and Kepler space telescopes, the Spirit and Opportunity Mars rovers, and the original ICESat.

"Lifting ICESat-2 on a quest to explore the polar ice sheets of our constantly changing home planet".

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

NASA launched a satellite Saturday over the Pacific Ocean to measure changes in Earth's ice sheets, glaciers, sea ice and vegetation.

091518 onpad Final Delta 2 Rocket Launches From Vandenberg Carrying $1B Ice Probe

Built by Northrop Grumman, ICESat-2 carries a single instrument - a laser altimeter that measures height by determining how long it takes photons to travel from the spacecraft to Earth and back.

The launch was the last for the iconic rocket, introduced by the rocket builders in 1989.

NASA's Ice, Cloud and land Elevation Satellite-2, or ICESat-2, lifted off at 9:02 a.m. EDT (6:02 a.m. PDT or 1302 GMT) from Space Launch Complex-2 at Vandenberg Air Force Base in Southern California.

NASA said the mission will add a "third dimension" to its study of Earth.

"Watching and understanding how it [ice] is changing helps us understand why it's changing", said Waleed Abdalati, a geographer at the University of Colorado in Boulder and a concept designer of ICESat-2. Two of them - twin Electron Losses and Fields Investigation CubeSats, or ELFIN, were designed by a team of UCLA students, some of whom are now alumni or graduate students.

Measurements will be taken every 2.3 feet (0.7 meters) along the satellite's path. "Space weather research is also crucial for space tourism and space exploration".

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