Published: Sun, September 16, 2018
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ULA launches final Delta II rocket with NASA's ICESat-2

ULA launches final Delta II rocket with NASA's ICESat-2

The first Delta 2 lifted off on February 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.

$1 billion ICESat-2 mission will use advanced lasers to uncover the true depth of the melting of Earth's ice sheets.

The United Launch Alliance Delta 2 lifted off from Space Launch Complex 2 at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California at 9:02 a.m.

The mission's tortured acronym stands for "Ice, Cloud and land Elevation Satellte".

The laser is created to fire 10,000 times per second, divided into six beams of hundreds of trillions of photons.

ICESat-2 suffered delays because of problems with ATLAS, notably a failure of one of its lasers. This was the 155th Delta II rocket launched from both California and Florida launch centers. According to NASA, it will collect more than 250 times as many measurements as the first ICESat. "The ATLAS instrument took longer than we thought".

Launch was delayed 16 minutes by a minor technical glitch, but the final moments of the countdown went smoothly and the slender rocket quickly vaulted away from its firing stand at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., arcing away to the south over the Pacific Ocean.

This launch, which was the 100th consecutive successful Delta 2, brought back a tradition from earlier Delta 2 missions.

For its send-off, a lighter variant of Delta II placed ICESat-2 - essentially a large laser radar (LIDAR) array with solar panels and thrusters - into a polar orbit, where it will work to measure and track changes in Earth's vast ice resources and will do so with extreme accuracy and precision.

The stars returned for this final Delta 2 launch, but with a twist, he said: people ranging from retirees who once worked on the program to customers and range personnel were invited to sign the stars.

Delta 2 rockets have launched scores of and satellite telephone relay stations, seven Mars missions - including the Pathfinder, Spirit and Opportunity rovers - Earth observation satellites, commercial payloads and trail-blazing NASA science probes, including the planet-hunting Kepler space telescope.

The Delta II's second stage AJ10-118K engine reignited for 6 seconds about 47 minutes into the mission before deploying ICESat-2 into orbit.

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