NASA launches laser device into space to measure Earth's polar ice

Cesar Mills
September 17, 2018

The mission will inform sea level rise forecasts and is "exceptionally important for science", according to Richard Slonaker, ICESat-2 programme executive at NASA.

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 Delta 2's RS-27A main engine burst to life at 6:02 a.m. Many of those spacecraft are still operational to this day, with some of the most noteworthy examples being Dawn (orbiting Ceres, the largest asteroid in the solar system), Kepler (the first dedicated space-based exoplanet observatory), and the beleaguered Mars rover Opportunity, now in an unplanned state of hibernation on the Red Planet.

"It's been a very, very prominent part of space history", said Scott Messer, program manager for NASA programs at ULA, during a pre-launch press conference Wednesday (Sep. 13). It has one single instrument: a laser altimeter that can measure height by finding out how long it takes photons to travel from the satellite to Earth and back.

The Delta II has carried the majority of the Iridium communication satellites in orbit between 1998 and 2002.

NASA had earlier in the day said the weather is favourable for the launch.

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

Tom Wagner, cryosphere program scientist at NASA, added: "One of the things that we are trying to do is. characterise the change that is taking place within the ice, and this is going to greatly improve our understanding of that, especially over areas where we don't know is changing right now".

Liftoff occurred slightly later than iniitially planned to give the team time to assess a questionable temperature reading involving the rocket's second stage. Over time, researchers can see how those levels are changing.

The ICESat-2 will zoom above the planet at 7 km per second (4.3 miles per second), completing an orbit around Earth in 90 minutes.

"This allows the mission to look at the same piece of Earth in each of the four seasons, enabling scientists to use that data to characterize the changes that they're observing", Neumann said. During its operational life, it also sent up the Kepler telescope, the twin lunar-orbiting GRAIL spacecraft, and a total of 48 Global Positioning System satellites.

Other reports by GizPress

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