Laser sat on mis­sion to track ice loss

SpaceX an­nounces new plan to send tourist around Moon

Arab Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

LOS ANGELES, Sept 15, (Agen­cies): NASA’s most ad­vanced space laser satel­lite blasted off Satur­day on a mis­sion to track ice loss around the world and im­prove forecasts of sea level rise as the cli­mate warms.

Cloaked in pre-dawn dark­ness, the $1 bil­lion, half-ton ICESat-2 launched aboard a Delta II rocket from Van­denberg Air Force base in Cal­i­for­nia at 6:02 am (1302 GMT).

“Three, two one, liftoff!” said a launch com­men­ta­tor on NASA tele­vi­sion.

“Lift­ing ICESat-2 on a quest to ex­plore the po­lar ice sheets of our con­stantly chang­ing home planet.”

The launch marks the first time in nearly a decade that NASA has had a tool in or­bit to mea­sure ice sheet sur­face el­e­va­tion across the globe.

The pre­ced­ing mis­sion, ICESat, launched in 2003 and ended in 2009.

The first ICESat re­vealed that sea ice was thin­ning, and ice cover was dis­ap­pear­ing from coastal ar­eas in Green­land and Antarc­tica.

In the in­ter­ven­ing nine years, an air­craft mis­sion called Op­er­a­tion IceBridge, has flown over the Arc­tic and Antarc­tic, tak­ing height mea­sure­ments of the chang­ing ice.

But a view from space – es­pe­cially with the lat­est tech­nol­ogy – should be far more pre­cise.

An up­date is par­tic­u­larly ur­gent since global av­er­age tem­per­a­tures have climbed year af­ter year, with four of the hottest years in mod­ern times all tak­ing place from 2014-2017.

“Loss of things like the sea ice that cov­ers the Arc­tic ocean af­fects our weather, and loss of ice that cov­ers Green­land and Antarc­tica raises sea level,” said Tom Wag­ner, cryosphere pro­gram sci­en­tist at NASA.

He added that the satel­lite should re­veal new in­sights into the ice in the deep in­te­rior of Antarc­tica, which is area of mys­tery to sci­en­tists.

The new laser will fire 10,000 times in one sec­ond, com­pared to the orig­i­nal ICESat which fired 40 times a sec­ond.

Mea­sure­ments will be taken ev­ery 2.3 feet (0.7 me­ters) along the sa­tel- lite’s path.

“The mis­sion will gather enough data to es­ti­mate the an­nual el­e­va­tion change in the Green­land and Antarc­tic ice sheets even if it’s as slight as four mil­lime­ters – the width of a No. 2 pen­cil,” NASA said in a state­ment.

Im­por­tantly, the laser will mea­sure the slope and height of the ice, not just the area it cov­ers.

“Our data will al­low ice sheet mod­el­ers to make bet­ter pre­dic­tions of the fu­ture,” said Tom Neu­mann, deputy project sci­en­tist for ICESat-2.

Though pow­er­ful, the laser will not be hot enough to melt ice from its van­tage point some 300 miles (500 kms) above the Earth, NASA said.

The mis­sion is meant to last three years but has enough fuel to con­tinue for 10, if mis­sion man­agers de­cide to ex­tend its life.

SpaceX on Thurs­day an­nounced a new plan to launch a tourist around the Moon us­ing its Big Fal­con Rocket (BFR), a mas­sive launch ve­hi­cle that is be­ing de­signed to carry peo­ple into deep space.

“SpaceX has signed the world’s first pri­vate pas­sen­ger to fly around the Moon aboard our BFR launch ve­hi­cle – an im­por­tant step to­ward en­abling ac­cess for ev­ery­day peo­ple who dream of trav­el­ing to space,” the com­pany said on Twit­ter.

A Ja­panese sup­ply run to the In­ter­na­tional Space Sta­tion has been de­layed again.

The countdown was halted Satur­day lo­cal time in Ja­pan, with only a few hours re­main­ing be­fore liftoff.

Ear­lier in the week, a typhoon de­layed the launch.

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