Published: Tue, September 18, 2018
Sci-tech | By Laverne Osborne

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

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

A large sticker on the side of the huge launch pad noted the role of workers for the Delta II missions through the years saying "Dedicated to all the Employees, Suppliers, Customers and AF Range personnel who designed, built and launched the Delta II between 1989 and today". From its origin as the launch vehicle for the first Global Positioning System (GPS) satellites to NASA's Earth observing, science and interplanetary satellites including Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity to vital commercial communication and imaging satellites, the Delta II rocket has truly earned its place in space history. Launching from the same air base, ICESat-2 will monitor the planet's polar ice with a new-generation laser instrument dubbed ATLAS (Advanced Topographic Laser Altimeter System).

One more Delta 2 exists, but will not be launched.

"With this mission we continue humankind's exploration of the remote polar regions of our planet and advance our understanding of how ongoing changes of Earth's ice cover at the poles and elsewhere will affect lives around the world, now and in the future", said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of NASA's Science Mission Directorate. Scientists can then translate the spacecraft's incredibly precise measurement of the travel time of each photon - accurate to within a billionth of a second - into the distance it traveled, essentially measuring the height of Earth's surface at that point.

This is "one of the most unbelievable machines we've ever launched into space", ICESat-2 program scientist Tom Wagner said in a statement.

United Launch Alliance's final Delta 4 rocket stands poised for launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base in the program's 155th flight.

The ICESat-2 mission cost a little over $1 billion and the spacecraft is about the size of a Smart auto.

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

The laser will fire 10,000 times per second into six beams that will shoot hundreds of trillions of photons.

The launch is a follow up to a satellite that was launched in 2003 and operated until 2009, the AP reported.

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

Moving in an orbit that goes from pole to pole, ICESat-2 traverses 1,387 different orbital paths every 91 days.

"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. "Space weather research is also crucial for space tourism and space exploration".

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