The Ice, Cloud and land Elevation Satellite-2, or ICESat-2, launched shortly after 9 a.m. ET from Vandenberg Air Force Base near Lompoc, California.
Ending a storied 30-year run as one of America's most successful rockets, United Launch Alliance's 155th and final Delta 2 roared to life for the last time Saturday and soared away from the California coast carrying a $1 billion NASA satellite to measure the thickness and extent of polar ice sheets, changes in sea level and the height of forest canopies and clouds.
ICESat-2 was launched with the last-ever Delta II rocket - in operation since 1989.
Delta II rockets have been used for missions including the Phoenix Mars Lander, plus all operational Global Positioning System missions, as well as commercial missions.
The Delta II payload fairing is installed around NASA's ICESat-2.
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.
The laser, known as ATLAS (Advanced Topographic Laser Altimeter System), splits into six beams and fires 10,000 pulses per second to collect very precise measurements for scientists to analyze. The ICESat-2 mission will measure the changing height of Earth's ice. The launch window will remain open for 2.5 hours, with a backup window available on Sunday morning.
Nasa has successfully launched a laser satellite to map the loss of ice sheets and glaciers around the world as climate change continues to affect our planet.
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ICESat-2's only instrument is a laser system created to measure the height of Earth's surface - most importantly, sea ice's height.
"Three, two one, liftoff!" said a launch commentator on NASA television.
ATLAS shoots 10,000 laser pulses every second, with each pulse containing about 300 trillion photons. ATLAS will primarily be used to measure the elevation of ice sheets and changes in their size, but will also measure the height of vegetation on land.
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.
It also carries twin ELFIN CubeSats. ICESat-2's orbit will make 1,387 unique ground tracks around Earth in 91 days and then start the same ground pattern again at the beginning. ICESat-2 was first proposed in 2008, but construction didn't begin until 2010, with an estimated launch date in 2015.
"This allows the mission to look at the same piece of Earth in each of the four seasons, enabling scientists to use that data to characterize the changes that they're observing", Neumann said.
Today's launch will be met by favorable weather conditions, the space agency announced yesterday, although the area's propensity for fog might hinder the locals' plans of watching the rocket blast off into space.