The United Launch Alliance rocket is scheduled for launch at 5:46 a.m., and it will mark the final mission of the Delta II rocket, which has been in use since 1989.
The Delta II payload fairing is installed around NASA's ICESat-2.
"Lifting ICESat-2 on a quest to explore the polar ice sheets of our constantly changing home planet". The round trip is timed to a billionth of a second. Each laser in a pair sits 295 feet (90 meters) apart, and each pair of lasers lies 2.1 miles (3.3 kilometers) from one another. Its dense, frequent coverage and high resolution should help detect minute changes in inland ice sheets and shelves, along with the thinning of Arctic and Antarctic sea ice. It will measure sea ice thickness by measuring the heights or elevations of sea ice and comparing the height of the ice with the height of the adjacent open water to find out the measurement of sea ice freeboard, the portion of sea ice floating above the water. 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. This was the 155th Delta II rocket launched from both California and Florida launch centers.
Goddard built and tested the ATLAS instrument, and manages the ICESat-2 mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate. NASA contracted the ULA rocket launch for $96.6 million in 2013. Over time, researchers can see how those levels are changing. 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 will orbit Earth's poles, allowing ATLAS to cover the entire planet as it rotates below.
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.
Along with launching ICESat-2, the Delta 2's second stage also carried four small cubesats developed by university researchers.
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.