NASA is gearing up for the launch of a laser-armed satellite sometime next month. The satellite in question will be entrusted with the job of measuring the changes in the heights of the polar ice on the planet, in a bid grasp knowledge so as to gauge the reason behind the rapid melting of ice sheets. Over the course of the past few years, the global sea level has risen by more than a millimeter a year due to these melting ice sheets alone. This has yet to be stemmed and has already contributed to around one-third of the observed sea rise.
NASA has named this satellite the Ice, Cloud, and Land Elevation Satellite 2 (ICESat-2), it has been planned to be launched from the Vandenberg Air Force Base in California on 15th September. It will be measuring the average changes in the elevation of the land ice that covers Greenland and Antarctica every year, accurate to the width of a pencil (capturing approximately 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. The ICESat-2 has been intended to go better than NASA’s 15-year old record regarding the tracking of the changes in polar ice heights. It had first begun in the year 2003 with the advent of the first ICESat mission and was carried forward with Operation IceBridge in 2009.
The ICESat-2 will make use of an Advanced Topographic Laser Altimeter System (ATLAS) that will allow it to measure the height by keeping timing on the time taken by the individual light protons to commute to and fro the Earth and the spacecraft. “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.
The ATLAS tech would be put into use a staggering 10,000 times every single second and will put across hundreds of trillions of photons to the ground in a total of six beams of light. This will allow it to obtain an extremely detailed view of the ice surface in comparison to its predecessor. During its polar circling of the Earth, the satellite will be taking note of the ice heights lying on the same path a total of four times in a year. In this way, it will be giving both seasonal and annual tracking of the changes in the ice heights. Apart from that, it has also been tasked with measuring the height of the oceanic and land surfaces.