NASA’s Ice, Cloud and land Elevation Satellite-2 (ICESat-2) arrived at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California on Tuesday, June 12, three months before its scheduled launch on United Launch Alliance’s final Delta II rocket. After launch, slated for Sept. 12, 2018, ICESat-2 will use a laser instrument to measure the height of Earth’s surface in unprecedented detail.

ICESat-2’s sole instrument, called the Advanced Topographic Laser Altimeter System (ATLAS), was assembled and tested at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. ATLAS was then trucked to a Northrop Grumman facility in Arizona, where it was integrated with the ICESat-2 spacecraft – which provides navigation, power, communications and more.

The final leg of ICESat-2’s ground-based journey started Monday morning, as crews loaded the satellite into a specialized truck and drove about 600 miles to Vandenberg, near Lompoc, California. The team monitored the satellite’s slight movements and temperatures along the route, keeping it in the low 70s as outside temperatures exceeded 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38 degrees Celsius). ICESat-2 arrived midday Tuesday.

Once the satellite is unpacked in a cleanroom operated by Astrotech Corp. at Vandenberg, the ICESat-2 team will conduct a few tests, including firing the lasers, to ensure nothing was disturbed during the shipping process. The completed satellite observatory – with its instrument, spacecraft bus and solar arrays – was tested extensively in Arizona.

“This year, we’ve gone through final testing including acoustics testing, comprehensive performance testing of the satellite with the two flight lasers, installed the solar array, conducted a solar array deployment and performed an ATLAS door deploy – we know everything is working well,” said Joy Henegar-Leon, ICESat-2’s Observatory and Ground Systems Manager. The team also conducted a dry run of the post-launch procedures that power up the spacecraft and instrument, and configure the satellite for science data collection.

After launch, the fast-firing laser and sensitive detectors aboard ICESat-2 will allow it to collect precise measurements of Earth’s height. The mission is designed to focus on changes in the ice sheets and sea ice in Antarctica and the Arctic, where warming temperatures are having dramatic effects. The satellite will track the changes in these polar regions and around the globe.

ICESat-2 will launch on United Launch Alliance’s final Delta II rocket, which is undergoing final assembly at Vandenberg.

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By Kate Ramsayer

NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md. 

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