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NASA will Launch A Laser Satellite That Will Record The Change in Height Of Polar Ice

Beyond the poles, ICESat-2 will also measure the height of ocean and land surfaces, including forests.

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Nasa's Opportunity rover might have 'died' on Mars. Flickr

NASA is launching a laser-armed satellite next month that will measure — in unprecedented detail — changes in the heights of Earth’s polar ice to understand what is causing ice sheets to melt fast.

In recent years, contributions of melt from the ice sheets of Greenland and Antarctica alone have raised global sea level by more than a millimetre a year, accounting for approximately one-third of observed sea level rise, and the rate is increasing.

Called the Ice, Cloud and Land Elevation Satellite-2 (ICESat-2), the mission is scheduled to be launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California on September 15, NASA said in a statement late on Thursday.

ICESat-2 will measure the average annual elevation change of land ice covering Greenland and Antarctica to within the width of a pencil, capturing 60,000 measurements every second.

“The new observational technologies of ICESat-2 will advance our knowledge of how the ice sheets of Greenland and Antarctica contribute to sea level rise,” said Michael Freilich, Director of the Earth Science Division in NASA’s Science Mission Directorate.

NASA, Polar Ice
ICESat-2 will measure the average annual elevation change of land ice covering Greenland and Antarctica. Flickr

ICESat-2 will improve upon NASA’s 15-year record of monitoring the change in polar ice heights.

It started in 2003 with the first ICESat mission and continued in 2009 with NASA’s Operation IceBridge, an airborne research campaign that kept track of the accelerating rate of change.

ICESat-2’s Advanced Topographic Laser Altimeter System (ATLAS) measures height by timing how long it takes individual light photons to travel from the spacecraft to Earth and back.

“ATLAS required us to develop new technologies to get the measurements needed by scientists to advance the research,” said Doug McLennan, ICESat-2 Project Manager.

“That meant we had to engineer a satellite instrument that not only will collect incredibly precise data, but also will collect more than 250 times as many height measurements as its predecessor,” he added.

NASA
IceBridge, a six-year NASA mission, is the largest airborne survey of Earth’s polar ice ever flown. Flickr

 

ATLAS will fire 10,000 times each second, sending hundreds of trillions of photons to the ground in six beams of green light.

With so many photons returning from multiple beams, ICESat-2 will get a much more detailed view of the ice surface than its predecessor.

Also Read: SpaceX Launches Communications Satellite

As it circles Earth from pole to pole, ICESat-2 will measure ice heights along the same path in the polar regions four times a year, providing seasonal and annual monitoring of ice elevation changes.

Beyond the poles, ICESat-2 will also measure the height of ocean and land surfaces, including forests. (IANS)

Next Story

NASA Selects Missions to Study Sun, its Effects on Space Weather

One of the selected missions will study how the Sun drives particles and energy into the solar system

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NASA, Missions, Sun
The launch date for the two missions is no later than August 2022, the US space agency said in a statement on Friday. Pixabay

NASA has selected two new missions to study the Sun and its dynamic effects on space weather.

The launch date for the two missions is no later than August 2022, the US space agency said in a statement on Friday.

One of the selected missions will study how the Sun drives particles and energy into the solar system and a second will study the Earth’s response.

“These missions will do big science, but they’re also special because they come in small packages, which means that we can launch them together and get more research for the price of a single launch,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, Associate Administrator for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA headquarters in Washington.

NASA, Missions, Sun
NASA has selected two new missions to study the Sun and its dynamic effects on space weather. Pixabay

The Sun generates a vast outpouring of solar particles known as the solar wind, which can create a dynamic system of radiation in space called space weather.

Near Earth, where such particles interact with our planet’s magnetic field, the space weather system can lead to profound impact on human interests, such as astronauts’ safety, radio communications, GPS signals and utility grids on the ground.

The more we understand what drives space weather and its interaction with the Earth and lunar systems, the more we can mitigate its effects – including safeguarding astronauts and technology crucial to NASA’s Artemis programme to the Moon.

One of the two missions that NASA has selected is the Polarimeter to Unify the Corona and Heliosphere, or PUNCH. This mission will focus directly on the Sun’s outer atmosphere, the corona, and how it generates the solar wind.

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The second mission is Tandem Reconnection and Cusp Electrodynamics Reconnaissance Satellites, or TRACERS. The TRACERS investigation was partially selected as a NASA-launched rideshare mission, meaning it will be launched as a secondary payload with PUNCH.

TRACERS will observe particles and fields at the Earth’s northern magnetic cusp region – the region encircling the Earth’s pole, where our planet’s magnetic field lines curve down towards the Earth, NASA said. (IANS)