September 16, 2018 – A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Delta II rocket carrying NASA’s Ice, Cloud and land Elevation Satellite-2 (ICESat-2) spacecraft lifted off from Vandenberg Air Force Base on September 15 at 6:02 a.m. PDT. This marks the final mission of the Delta II rocket, which first launched on February 14, 1989, and launched 155 times including ICESat-2.
From its origin as the launch vehicle for the first Global Positioning System (GPS) satellites to NASA’s Earth observing, science and interplanetary satellites – including Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity – to vital commercial communication and imaging satellites, the Delta II rocket has truly earned its place in space history.
“ULA is proud that the Delta II rocket has been a significant piece of history, launching more than 50 missions for NASA,” said Gary Wentz, ULA vice president of Government and Commercial Programs. “I sincerely thank the entire ULA team, NASA, U.S. Air Force, and all of our partners and suppliers who have worked diligently to launch the final Delta II rocket, as well as the dedication of the teams throughout the past 29 years of the program.”
ICESat-2 carries a single instrument, the Advanced Topographic Laser Altimeter System (ATLAS). ATLAS will be activated approximately two weeks after the mission operations team completes initial testing of the spacecraft. Then ICESat-2 will begin work on its science objective, gathering enough data to estimate the annual height change of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets to within four millimeters – the width of a pencil.
The high-resolution data will document changes in the Earth’s polar ice caps, improve forecasts of sea level rise bolstered by ice sheet melt in Greenland and Antarctica, and help scientists understand the mechanisms that are decreasing floating ice and assess how that sea ice loss affects the ocean and atmosphere.
ICESat-2 continues the record of ice height measurements started by NASA’s original ICESat mission, which operated from 2003 to 2009, that were continued by the agency’s annual Operation IceBridge airborne flights over the Arctic and Antarctic, which began in 2009. Data from ICESat-2 will be available to the public through the National Snow and Ice Data Center.
“With this mission we continue humankind’s exploration of the remote polar regions of our planet and advance our understanding of how ongoing changes of Earth’s ice cover at the poles and elsewhere will affect lives around the world, now and in the future,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate.
In addition to ICESat-2, the mission included four CubeSats which launched from dispensers mounted to the Delta II second stage.
This is ULA’s seventh launch in 2018 and the 130th successful launch since the company was formed in December 2006.
ULA’s next launch is the AEHF-4 mission for the U.S. Air Force on an Atlas V rocket from Space Launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.
Goddard built and tested the ATLAS instrument, and manages the ICESat-2 mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. Northrop Grumman designed and built the spacecraft bus, installed the instrument and tested the completed satellite. NASA’s Launch Services Program, based at Kennedy Space Center in Florida, is responsible for launch service acquisition, integration, analysis and launch management.