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This marks the final mission of the Delta II rocket, which first launched on February 14, 1989, and launched 155 times including ICESat-2.

US-based United Launch Alliance (ULA) launched the ICESat-2 satellite to study the Earth's ice cover atop its Delta II carrier rocket on Saturday.

ICESat-2 was launched with the last-ever Delta II rocket - in operation since 1989.

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. This was the 155th Delta II rocket launched from both California and Florida launch centers.

A Delta 2 rocket lifted off September 15 carrying a NASA Earth science satellite on the final flight of a vehicle whose heritage dates back to the beginning of the Space Age.

ICESat-2 carries a single instrument, the Advanced Topographic Laser Altimeter System (ATLAS).

ICESat-2 is meant to last three years but has enough fuel to continue for over a decade, if mission directors decide to extend its life.

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Timing the departure and arrival times of returning photons to within a billionth of a second, the satellite will be able to determine the thickness of ice below the spacecraft, giving scientists insights into how ice sheets change over time and how the loss of ice due to global warming and other factors might affect sea levels around the world.

The weather forecast was 100 percent favorable for the 40-minute launch window opening at 8:46 am (1246 GMT) on Saturday from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. The sea ice's height will help scientists measure its thickness.

'We are really looking forward to making those data available to the science community as quickly as possible so we can begin to explore what ICESat-2 can tell us about our complex home planet'. Over time, researchers can see how those levels are changing.

The laser on the satellite fires 10,000 times a second while travelling at a speed of 7km (4.3 miles) a second, from a height of 300 miles (482km). These measurements will be taken approximately every 2.3 feet along the path of the satellite.

ICESat-2's commissioning process, which takes 60 days, won't start for at least two weeks.

The Delta II has carried the majority of the Iridium communication satellites in orbit between 1998 and 2002.

According to the university, the micro-satellites each weigh 8 pounds and are about the size of a loaf of bread, and they're created to gather scientific data on magnetic storms in near-Earth space.


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