On Saturday, September 15, NASA launched its most advanced space laser of all time as part of a $1 billion mission aimed at revealing the extent to which climate change has affected Earth's ice sheet surface elevation.
The launch was the 155th and final flight of the Delta 2, which first launched in February 1989. 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.
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.
ICESat-2 was designed, among other things, to monitor and measure the thickness of ice cap at the Earth's North and South Pole. 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 carries a single instrument, the Advanced Topographic Laser Altimeter System (ATLAS), which is created to measure the thickness of the Earth's ice sheets using a laser light split into six beams that pulse 10,000 times per second. The satellite's primary instrument will pulse its laser at Earth 10,000 times a second and precisely measure the time it takes the beams to bounce off the ground and return to ICESat-2 to deduce the elevation below within the accuracy of 4 millimeters.
Described as the world's most advanced laser instrument, ATLAS will be firing photons at the ice mass covering our planet and perform about 60,000 measurements per second, gathering data on how ice height changes on a yearly average. The ICESat-2 will launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.
"Set your alarm to see lift-off - no earlier than 8:46am ET", NASA tweeted a few hours ago.
'We are really looking forward to making those data available to the science community as quickly as possible so we can begin to explore what ICESat-2 can tell us about our complex home planet'.
Moving in an orbit that goes from pole to pole, ICESat-2 traverses 1,387 different orbital paths every 91 days. With that data, scientists can forecast its likely impact on the world.
It also carries twin ELFIN CubeSats.