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Final Delta 2 launches ICESat-2

16 September 2018

The launch marked the unprecedented 100th successful flight of the Delta II rocket built by the United Launch Alliance (ULA), which over the course of 30 years lofted the first Global Positioning System satellites, deployed commercial telecommunication constellations and sent NASA robotic probes to explore and study the moon, Mars and the asteroids.

NASA's Ice, Cloud and land Elevation Satellite-2 (ICESat-2) will use laser pulses to measure the elevation of Earth's surface.

Cloaked in pre-dawn darkness, the $1 billion, half-ton ICESat-2 launched aboard a Delta II rocket from Vandenberg Air Force base in California at 6:02 am (1302 GMT).

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The laser on the satellite fires 10,000 times a second while travelling at a speed of 7km (4.3 miles) a second, from a height of 300 miles (482km).

ICESat-2 suffered delays because of problems with ATLAS, notably a failure of one of its lasers.

A newly launched NASA satellite will be able to precisely measure changes in the earth's ice sheets.

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For its send-off, a lighter variant of Delta II placed ICESat-2 - essentially a large laser radar (LIDAR) array with solar panels and thrusters - into a polar orbit, where it will work to measure and track changes in Earth's vast ice resources and will do so with extreme accuracy and precision. "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". "We used to put stars on the vehicle to represent the number of successful launches we had, but several years ago we took those stars off", said Scott Messer, manager of NASA programs at ULA, during the prelaunch briefing.

Over the course of its career, Delta II has managed an impressive ~99% success rate, launching dozens of successful scientific missions to explore asteroids, comets, the Moon, the sun, exoplanets, Mars, and more. "Delta 2 holds a really special place in so many folks' hearts".

Boeing - working as part of ULA - has completed the 100th consecutively successful launch of its 30-year-old Delta II rocket, bringing to an end the vehicle's storied history of missions for the United States military, NASA, and commercial customers.

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One more Delta 2 exists, but will not be launched.

Final Delta 2 launches ICESat-2