Final Delta 2 Rocket Launches From Vandenberg Carrying $1B Ice Probe

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The last launch is set for Saturday morning, September 15 from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

NASA kicked off its ICESat-2 mission to monitor our planet's ice sheets from space using a laser-scanning satellite this morning, with a launch that marked the end of a almost 30-year run for United Launch Alliance's Delta 2 rocket.

NASA is expected this month to launch its newest sentinel to monitor the melting poles, the $1 billion Ice, Cloud and land Elevation Satellite (ICESat-2). Many of those spacecraft are still operational to this day, with some of the most noteworthy examples being Dawn (orbiting Ceres, the largest asteroid in the solar system), Kepler (the first dedicated space-based exoplanet observatory), and the beleaguered Mars rover Opportunity, now in an unplanned state of hibernation on the Red Planet.

NASA had earlier in the day said the weather is favourable for the launch.

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.

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His administration is also seeking to boost methane emissions and roll back California's strict vehicle emissions standards. Perhaps the most significant sign of Brown's global clout was the size of the Chinese delegation at the summit.

ICESat-2 will measure Earth's ice sheets from space with a laser. "We used to put stars on the vehicle to represent the number of successful launches we had, but several years ago we took those stars off", said Scott Messer, manager of NASA programs at ULA, during the prelaunch briefing. "Delta 2 holds a really special place in so many folks' hearts".

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 instrument basically works like a stopwatch: It shoots a laser down to Earth and times how long it takes for the light to hit the surface and come back.

But the star of the show was ICESat-2, built to extend observations originally carried out by the less-powerful ICESat satellite and, more recently, by an aircraft-based gap-filler program known as IceBridge.

The spacecraft produces 10,000 pulses of photons every single second, and for each pulse, the same process plays out. Each laser in a pair sits 295 feet (90 meters) apart, and each pair of lasers lies 2.1 miles (3.3 kilometers) from one another.

No, it's not the villainous plan of a James Bond antagonist - although we'd totally understand if you thought it might be. With that data, scientists can forecast its likely impact on the world. Two of them - twin Electron Losses and Fields Investigation CubeSats, or ELFIN, were designed by a team of UCLA students, some of whom are now alumni or graduate students.