Boeing - working as part of ULA - has completed the 100th consecutively successful launch of its 30-year-old Delta II rocket, bringing to an end the vehicle's storied history of missions for the USA military, NASA, and commercial customers. The first Delta II was launched in 1989 from Florida with the first California launch in 1995.
The first Delta 2 lifted off February 14, 1989, and since then it has been the launch vehicle for Global Positioning System orbiters, Earth-observing and commercial satellites, and interplanetary missions including the twin Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity.
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. 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.
One more Delta 2 exists, but will not be launched.
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.
At launch, the satellite was scheduled to operate for three years, but much of its 3,482 lbs.
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NASA's Ice, Cloud and land Elevation Satellite-2, or ICESat-2, lifted off at 9:02 a.m. EDT (6:02 a.m. PDT or 1302 GMT) from Space Launch Complex-2 at Vandenberg Air Force Base in Southern California.
The data will help scientists determine how climate change is affecting global ice levels, and how changes in the ice affect the height of Earth's oceans.
The laser on the satellite fires 10,000 times a second while travelling at a speed of 7km (4.3 miles) a second, from a height of 300 miles (482km). ICESat-2 will add height measurements - accurate to a fraction of a centimeter - to the mix.
The satellite's powerful lasers will send 10,000 pulses per second down to the surface of the Earth. Measurements will be taken every 0.7m along the satellite's path. "ICESat-2 is going to do cutting-edge, scientific data gathering". With that data, scientists can forecast its likely impact on the world.
Along with launching ICESat-2, the Delta 2's second stage also carried four small cubesats developed by university researchers.
Today's launch will be met by favorable weather conditions, the space agency announced yesterday, although the area's propensity for fog might hinder the locals' plans of watching the rocket blast off into space.