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

ICESAT-2 launch

ICESAT-2 launch

NASA counted down Saturday to the launch of its $1 billion ICESat-2 mission, using advanced lasers to uncover the true depth of the melting of Earth's ice sheets.

The final telemetry in Delta II history is expected about 2 hours after launch, sometime prior to the second stage impacting and sinking into the South Pacific Ocean. "It was a very challenging mission to come up with", said Doug McLennan, ICESat-2 project manager at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, during a prelaunch briefing September 13. As its successor, ICESat-2 will fill in more detail about the bigger picture by examining how ice cover changes over the course of one year. Each laser in a pair sits 295 feet (90 meters) apart, and each pair of lasers lies 2.1 miles (3.3 kilometers) from one another.

ICESat-2 will measure Earth's ice sheets from space with a laser.

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

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.

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ATLAS includes state-of-the-art electronics that can turn a laser on and off thousands of times per second and a large telescope that can detect the handful of laser light photons that bounce off the surface and return to the satellite's 300-mile-high orbit.

NASA's Launch Services Program, based at Kennedy Space Center in Florida, is responsible for launch service acquisition, integration, analysis and launch management.

"ATLAS has the ability to time tag a single photon to billionth of a second accuracy, said Donya Douglas-Bradshaw, the ATLAS instrument manager at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center". Capable of measuring changes in ice thickness, forest growth and cloud height down to 0.02 inches (0.4 millimeters) every year - the thickness of a No. 2 pencil, according to NASA - ICESat-2 offers scientists an unprecedented view of Earth's changing systems, especially at its poles. 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.

It will take a measurement every 2.3ft (70cm) along the satellite's path. ICESat-2 was first proposed in 2008, but construction didn't begin until 2010, with an estimated launch date in 2015. "Space weather research is also crucial for space tourism and space exploration".

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