NASA blasts off space laser satellite to track ice loss

The 6:46 a.m. MT launch lifting off from Vandenberg Air Force Base on California's coast is the final mission of the medium-lift rocket that used to be the Centennial-based rocket manufacturer's work horse

NASA blasts off space laser satellite to track ice loss

In a bid to understand Earth's ice sheets, glaciers, sea ice, snow cover and permafrost, NASA on Saturday successfully launched its Ice, Cloud and Land Elevation Satellite-2, or ICESat-2.

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The weather forecast was 100 per cent favourable for the 40-minute launch window opening at 8.46am yesterday from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

Liftoff was delayed 16 minutes because of a minor technical glitch, but the final moments of the countdown ticked smoothly to zero and the rocket leaped skyward atop a brilliant jet of flame from the strap-on boosters.

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The Ice, Cloud and land Elevation Satellite-2, or ICESat-2, is NASA's most technologically advanced ice-monitoring spacecraft to date.

It is the U.S. space agency's most advanced laser satellite and will use its range of capabilities to accurately measure sea levels and sea ice cover. It will measure sea ice thickness by measuring the heights or elevations of sea ice and comparing the height of the ice with the height of the adjacent open water to find out the measurement of sea ice freeboard, the portion of sea ice floating above the water. According to NASA, it will collect more than 250 times as many measurements as the first ICESat. "Once on orbit, #ICESat2 will measure the thickness of Earth's polar ice sheets", the USA space agency said in a tweet. From it, scientists learnt that sea ice was thinning, and ice cover was disappearing from coastal areas in Greenland and Antarctica. ULA will have to rely even more heavily on its workhorse rocket, the Atlas V. But now, Global Positioning System satellites are larger and require larger launch vehicles than the Delta II.

While 50 lucky social media users will get to experience the action right from Vandenberg, as reported by the Inquisitr, the rest of the world can tune in on NASA Live to watch the last flight of the Delta II rocket.

"I'm a little bit melancholy about this", said Tim Dunn, NASA launch director, at the briefing. NASA contracted the ULA rocket launch for $96.6 million in 2013. "So it's been a very, very prominent part of space history". The satellite is created to measure the thickness of Earth's polar ice sheets. The instrument basically works like a stopwatch: It shoots a laser down to Earth and times how long it takes for the light to hit the surface and come back. The sensor stops the "stopwatch" and measures the photons' travel time to within 1-billionth of a second.

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