Key ICESat-2/ATLAS Performance Specifications

 Nominal duration of mission 3 Years
 Number of beams 6 organized in 3 pairs
 Beam pattern
 Footprint size 17 m 
 Field of view 45 m
 Pulse repetition frequency 10kHz (~0.7m on the ground)
 Laser wavelength 532 nm
 Pointing control 45 m
 Pointing knowledge 6.5 m
 Single-photon time-of-flight precision 800 ps

ATLAS expected performance in range using the current best estimates for winter and
summer conditions.

Target type Lambertian surface reflectance
N signal photons per shot
(weak beam)
N signal photons per shot
(strong beam)
100-shot std dev (weak beam) 100-shot std dev (strong beam)
 Ice sheet (interior) 0.9 -0.98 0.4 - 3.0 1.6 - 12.0 4 - 9 2 - 4
 Ice sheet (glaciers) 0.6 - 0.9 0.6 - 1.0 0.6 - 3.9  12 - 29 6 - 14
 Sea Ice 0.8 - 0.9 0.6 - 2.1 2.3 - 8.5 5 - 8 3 - 4
 Leads  * - 0.2
(much higher when specular)
0.05 - 0.2 0.2 - 1.0 2 - 5 2 - 5

Orbit and coverage

 Inclination 92 degrees
(coverage up to 88 degrees north and south)
 Altitude ~500 km
 Semi-major axis 6855 km

91-day exact repeat orbit
with monthly sub-cycle for the polar regions and oceans.
Operational off-nadir pointing over land areas
to generate a dense grid of data over 2 years

Links to the kmz file for the polar regions of all the lasers tracks over a 91-day period.
Kmz File for other areas upcoming or on request.

Antarctic Orbit
Arctic Orbit
Western Hemisphere Ground Tracks
Eastern Hemisphere Ground Tracks



  • These are posted at a fairly low resolution in order to make the file size manageable, with one point approximately every 7 kilometers.
  • The files have seven tracks per orbit: one for each of the six beams of ICESat-2, and the seventh for the Reference Ground Track (RGT). The RGT is an imaginary line through the six-beam pattern that is handy for getting a sense of where the orbits fall on Earth, and which the mission uses to point the observatory. However, the six tracks for the six beams are our best estimate of where the beams will actually fall on Earth’s surface.
  • Until ICESat-2’s time of launch time is determined, scientists don’t know exactly which ground track the satellite will drop into as it starts to orbit and collect science data. It is unlikely the mission will start gathering data on Track 1, but the website will be updated once the first track is known.
  • Over the polar areas and oceans, ICESat-2 will repeat its ground tracks every 91 days as it orbits; over land the satellite will point slightly off the RGT to measure more of Earth’s forests. The transitions between repeat-track pointing and off-pointing are included in these ground tracks. Near the poles, the difference between the two is subtle, but it becomes more pronounced near the equator.
  • ​The order of the off-point sequence has not yet been determined. During the first 91-day period, the satellite will point at the RGT, and after that it will follow one of seven off-pointing plans. The different sets of 91-day plans are included in the kmz files.
  • The ground tracks will likely change slightly as ICESat-2 nears launch and conducts post-launch calibration maneuvers. The mission is exploring options to provide more up-to-date pointing plans to the community as we approach the data-collection stage.


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