NASA Sends High-Tech Lasers to Space to Map Ice


NASA is go for a launch of the ICESat 2 satellite aboard a Delta II rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base Saturday morning.  It stands for Ice, Cloud and land Elevation Satellite, and is the second in the series that will measure the thickness of ice.  This new one comes with lasers.

“The other big thing is that ICESat 2 is going to collect so much data, we’re going to be able to see small-scale changes, like the things that happen over a season,” says NASA project scientist Tom Wagner.  “When the engineers got involved they said they were going to try this new photon counting method, so we can make this measurement a lot better, and we’re going to give you six beams to give you more than six times as much data.

The original ICESat launched in 2003 and lived a long life with a single beam, but Wagner says this is a monumental upgrade of capability and precision, emitting a green laser beam that then gets split into six.  From 300 miles above earth the beam shoots out, bounces off the ice, and by tracking the amount of time before the light returns to the sensor on the satellite scientists will be able to gauge the exact thickness of ice sheets, glaziers, sea ice, even forests.

The project is expected to last for three years, though the satellite has been fueled to provide feedback for as long as ten years.  How much information is that?  Blink.  In the time you took to blink, the satellite will have gathered 5,000 elevation measurements.


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