NASA launches ICESat-2 to track global ice loss

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The Southland could be in for an early morning aerial treat Saturday, thanks to the planned launch of a Delta II rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base near Lompoc.

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.

United Launch Alliance (ULA) is retiring the Delta II as it focuses more on its Delta IV and Atlas V rockets.

The Delta II had its first successful launch on Valentine's Day, 1989.

"This program comes to a close with the final launch of NASA's ICESat-2, but its legacy will continue, and the Visitor Complex will help us keep the story of the success of this much-revered rocket in the hearts and minds of the public".

Engineers building and testing the Advance Topographic Laser Altimeter System (ATLAS) for the ICESat-2 mission at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

NASA's most advanced space laser satellite blasted off Saturday on a mission to track ice loss around the world and improve forecasts of sea level rise as the climate warms.

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.

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"ICESat-2 will let us get at the thickness by measuring the sea ice freeboard - that's the height of the sea ice above the ocean", Tom Neumann, ICESat-2's deputy project scientist, told UPI.

Liftoff came at 6:02 a.m. PT from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, after a slight delay in the countdown due to concerns about the chilldown of the rocket's helium bottles.

"Set your alarm to see lift-off - no earlier than 8:46am ET", NASA tweeted a few hours ago.

The laser is created to fire 10,000 times per second, divided into six beams of hundreds of trillions of photons.

As well as tracking the increasing sea level around Earth, it will use cutting edge instruments to measure how quickly glaciers and ice sheets are melting.

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.

Moving in an orbit that goes from pole to pole, ICESat-2 traverses 1,387 different orbital paths every 91 days. Four CubeSats accompanied the ICESat-2 into space.

Today's launch will be met by favorable weather conditions, the space agency announced yesterday, although the area's propensity for fog might hinder the locals' plans of watching the rocket blast off into space.

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