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NASA prepares to launch ICESat-2

Posted at 4:40 PM, Sep 11, 2018
and last updated 2018-09-11 17:40:32-04

NASA is preparing to launch a new satellite this weekend. The ICESat-2 mission will measure the changing height of Earth's ice over time.

NASA scientist Doctor Kelly Brunt explains how the orbital path of ICESat-2 will continually measure a full grid of the Earth about every 90 days to provide data.

"With two measurements you can get at surface change and that's what's really critical for us, for looking at the polar regions," Brunt says.

The satellite will be traveling at 4.3 miles per second. Which means that in that one second, it can travel the length of 70 football fields.

Measurements are made by the satellite's laser, which shoots 10,000 pulses per second, down to the Earth's surface.

"It bounces off the surface, it comes back to the satellite and based on that timing, that two way travel time, we can determine the height of the surface including the ice sheets and sea ice," Brunt explains.

Measuring the ice sheets is particularly important because sea levels rise as they melt.

Along with the ice sheets, sea ice is particularly useful to measure, and the melting of sea ice can even impact us here in the middle of the United States.

Brunt explains as sea ice melts, it does not rise sea levels, but changes the relationship and exchange between heat and moisture in the atmosphere.

"Ultimately when you change that exchange, you have an impact on global weather patterns and that has a direct impact on you guys," Brunt adds.

The satellite is scheduled to launch at 7:46 CDT the morning of Saturday, September 15th from the Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.