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NASA Satellite to Measure Ice Changes  09/19 06:19

   VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. (AP) -- A NASA satellite designed to 
precisely measure changes in Earth's ice sheets, glaciers, sea ice and 
vegetation was launched into polar orbit from California early Saturday.

   A Delta 2 rocket carrying ICESat-2 lifted off from Vandenberg Air Force Base 
at 6:02 a.m. and headed over the Pacific Ocean.

   NASA Earth Science Division director Michael Freilich says that the mission 
in particular will advance knowledge of how the ice sheets of Greenland and 
Antarctica contribute to sea level rise.

   The melt from those ice sheets alone has raised global sea level by more 
than 1 millimeter (0.04 inch) a year recently, according to NASA.

   The mission is a successor to the original Ice, Cloud and Land Elevation 
Satellite that operated from 2003 to 2009. Measurements continued since then 
with airborne instruments in NASA's Operation IceBridge.

   Built by Northrop Grumman, ICESat-2 carries a single instrument, a laser 
altimeter that measures height by determining how long it takes photons to 
travel from the spacecraft to Earth and back. According to NASA, it will 
collect more than 250 times as many measurements as the first ICESat.

   The laser is designed to fire 10,000 times per second, divided into six 
beams of hundreds of trillions of photons. The round trip is timed to a 
billionth of a second.

   In addition to ice, the satellite's other measurements, such as the tops of 
trees, snow and river heights, may help with research into the amount of carbon 
stored in forests, flood and drought planning and wildfire behavior, among 
other uses.

   The launch was the last for a Delta 2 rocket, United Launch Alliance said. 

   The first Delta 2 lifted off on Feb. 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. 


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