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Last Delta 2 rocket launch puts ICESat-2 in orbit

Delta 2 launch
A United Launch Alliance Delta 2 rocket rises from its launch pad at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, carrying NASA’s ICESAT-2 satellite into orbit. (NASA via YouTube)

NASA kicked off its ICESat-2 mission to monitor our planet’s ice sheets from space using a laser-scanning satellite this morning, with a launch that marked the end of a nearly 30-year run for United Launch Alliance’s Delta 2 rocket.

Liftoff came at 6:02 a.m. PT from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, after a slight delay in the countdown due to concerns about the chilldown of the rocket’s helium bottles. The two-stage rocket made a trouble-free ascent to orbit.

ICESat-2 follows up on an earlier NASA mission that used laser-ranging data to measure ice sheet balance and sea level. This time around, the laser-scanning instrument will be capable of measuring Earth’s elevation every 30 inches (70 centimeters) across a 30-foot-wide track as it circles the planet.

The data will help scientists determine how climate change is affecting global ice levels, and how changes in the ice affect the height of Earth’s oceans.

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By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributing editor at GeekWire, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing. Check out "About Alan Boyle" for more fun facts.

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