WASHINGTON – The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) launched on Saturday its ICESat-2 satellite, which will help measure changes in Earth’s ice.
The satellite was launched aboard a Delta 2 rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, at 6:02 am local time (1302 GMT).
“Flying free! We have spacecraft separation from the @ULALaunch #DeltaII rocket,” NASA said via Twitter moments after liftoff.
The ICESat-2 satellite will provide data to analyze changes in the average annual height of the ice covering Greenland and Antarctica, carrying out 60,000 measurements per second.
The goal is to advance NASA’s research on changes in polar ice heights, which began in 2003 with the first ICESat mission and continued with Operation IceBridge, starting in 2009.
“ICESat-2 represents a major technological leap in our ability to measure changes in ice height. Its Advanced Topographic Laser Altimeter System (ATLAS) measures height by timing how long it takes individual light photons to travel from the spacecraft to Earth and back,” NASA said in a statement.
“ATLAS will fire 10,000 times each second, sending hundreds of trillions of photons to the ground in six beams of green light,” NASA said.
This will allow ICESat-2 to obtain a “much more detailed view” of the ice surface than ICESat, its predecessor.
According to NASA, in recent years, the melting of the ice sheets of Greenland and Antarctica have raised the global sea level by more than one millimeter per year, accounting for “approximately one-third of observed sea level rise, and the rate is increasing.”
NASA’s objective is that the data provided by ICESat-2 will help researchers “narrow the range of uncertainty in forecasts of future sea level rise and connect those changes to climate drivers.”
According to NASA, satellites have routinely measured the area covered by sea ice and have observed that the Arctic sea ice has declined about 40 percent since 1980.