NASA has seen its Ice, Cloud and land Elevation Satellite-2 (ICESat-2) launch successfully aboard a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Delta 2 rocket on 15th September.
The satellite’s sole instrument is the Advanced Topographic Laser Altimeter System (ATLAS) which is tasked with gathering enough data to estimate the annual height change of the Greenland Antarctic ice sheets to within four millimeters – the width of a pencil. ATLAS will record high-resolution data on changes in the Earth’s polar ice caps, help to better understand sea level rises due to melting ice sheets, help the scientific community to better understand the drivers of decreasing floating ice, and to determine how the oceans and the atmosphere are affected by sea ice loss.
“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.
The original IceSat programme measured the Earth’s ice height and ran from 2003-2009 before giving way the airborne flights of Operation Icebridge which conducted annual passes over the Arctic and Antarctic. IceSat-2 builds on this legacy and will make data publically available via the US National Snow and Ice Data Center.
“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 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.”