Watch the Minuteman III missile blast off from Vandenberg
The final Delta II rocket is set to launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base on Saturday, carrying NASA’s newest satellite to monitor changes in the planet’s ice sheets, glaciers and sea ice.
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 is planned for Sept. 15, NASA officials announced in August.
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-2 has been unpacked in 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.
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.
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.
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.