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NASA launches ICESat-2 to create 3D maps of changing ice sheets

US space agency NASA launched its Ice, Cloud and land Elevation Satellite-2 (ICESat-2) from California on September 15, 2018, with the aim of measuring the ice sheets in Earth’s most extreme regions with unprecedented accuracy.

ICESat-2 lifted off from Space Launch Complex-2 at Vandenberg Air Force Base on United Launch Alliance’s (ULA) final Delta II rocket. Ground stations in Svalbard, Norway, acquired signals from the spacecraft 75 minutes after launch. It is currently orbiting the globe, from pole to pole, at 17,069mph at an average altitude of 290 miles.

“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.

ICESat-2 carries a single instrument, the Advanced Topographic Laser Altimeter System (ATLAS), which will gather enough data to estimate the annual height change of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets to within 4mm (0.2in).

“While the launch today was incredibly exciting, for us scientists the most anticipated part of the mission starts when we switch on the laser and get our first data,” said Thorsten Markus, ICESat-2 project scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.

“We are really looking forward to making that 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.”

The high-resolution data will document changes in Earth’s polar ice caps, improve forecasts of sea level rise bolstered by ice sheet melt in Greenland and Antarctica, and help scientists understand the mechanisms that are decreasing floating ice and assess how that sea ice loss affects the ocean and atmosphere.

ICESat-2 continues the work started by NASA’s original ICESat mission, which operated from 2003 to 2009, and was continued by the agency’s annual Operation IceBridge airborne flights over the Arctic and Antarctic, which began in 2009.



- September 2018

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