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Preparations Underway for NASA’s ICESat-2 Launch Next Month at Vandenberg Air Force Base

Satellite's science mission is to study planet's changes after ride to space aboard Delta II rocket

airlock
ICESat-2 is uncrated inside the airlock of the Astrotech processing facility at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, prior to a successful series of tests of the satellite and its instrument. (Vanessa Valentine / USAF 30th Space Wing photo)

As summer heat grips the Central Coast, NASA’s newest satellite to monitor changes in the planet's ice sheets, glaciers and sea ice is undergoing preparations for launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base aboard the final Delta II rocket next month.

The Ice, Cloud and land Elevation Satellite-2, or ICESat-2, arrived at Vandenberg in June, three months before its scheduled launch on United Launch Alliance’s last Delta II rocket. 

Liftoff now is planned for Sept. 15, three days later than planned, NASA officials announced this week. The rocket’s blastoff is set to occur during a 40-minute launch window opening at 5:46 a.m. 

ICESat-2 will use a laser instrument, called the Advanced Topographic Laser Altimeter System (ATLAS), to collect measurements of Earth’s surface in what NASA scientists say will be unprecedented detail.

That instrument traveled by truck from Maryland to a Northrop Grumman facility in Arizona, where it was installed on the ICESat-2 spacecraft “bus,” which provides navigation, power and communications to allow the satellite's operation.

ICESat-2 took another truck trek to get to Vandenberg, arriving in mid-June, after a journey that required the team to monitor the satellite’s slight movements and temperatures.

Since arriving at Vandenberg, ICESat has been unpacked a cleanroom operated by Astrotech Corp. and completed final tests, including firing the lasers, to ensure it did not suffer damage during the shipping process.

“This year, we’ve gone through final testing including acoustics testing, comprehensive performance testing of the satellite with the two flight lasers, installed the solar array, conducted a solar array deployment and performed an ATLAS door deploy — we know everything is working well,” said Joy Henegar-Leon, ICESat-2’s observatory and ground systems manager. 

Once the tests are done, ICESat-2 payload will head to the launch pad in late August, according to NASA ICESat-2 launch integration manager John Satrom 

satellite Click to view larger
The ICESat-2 mission will measure the changing height of Earth’s glaciers, ice sheets and sea ice, one laser pulse at a time, 10,000 laser pulses per second. The satellite’s launch is planned for Sept. 15. (NASA photo)

This mission will focus on changes in the ice sheets and sea ice in Antarctica and the Arctic, where warming temperatures have led to “dramatic effects,” NASA officials said.

ICESat-1 also headed to space aboard a Delta II rocket launched in January 2003 from Vandenberg, kicking off a mission that ended seven years later.

While ICESat-2 undergoes its preparations, a short distance down the road ULA technicians have worked to erect the Delta II rocket at its launch pad.

In addition to signaling the start of the ICESat-2 mission, liftoff will mark the finale for Delta II rockets which first launched in 1995 from Vandenberg. A lack of satellites needing the capabilities of the  rocket has led to an end of the workhorse space booster.

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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