The NASA laser satellite will measure the thickness of the polar ice to within a centimeter

<pre>The NASA laser satellite will measure the thickness of the polar ice to within a centimeter

In 2003, NASA launched the ICESat satellite to monitor the state of ice in the polar regions of the planet, and now it's time for ICESat-2. On board there is an “Extended topographic laser altimeter system” or, more simply, the most perfect altimeter in the history of NASA. Its main task is to constantly measure the ice thickness with unprecedented accuracy.

ICESat-2 will constantly move from pole to pole, measuring four times a year. It emits six separate laser beams, in each hundreds of trillions of photons, and then measures the time for which they will reflect and return back to within one billionth of a second. Unprecedented and the density of coverage – if the old satellite did two measurements on the area with a football field, the new one will make a map of 130 points and will be able to notice elevations of 1 cm or less.


The main object of interest for the ICESat-2 mission is, of course, the ice cover of the poles. However, if necessary, the altimeter of the satellite can be sent to other important objects, for example, to measure the water level in the rivers and the height of the snow. With its help it is possible to track the rate of melting of glaciers and already drifting ice floes, even to measure the height of the forest in order to calculate the indirect content of carbon in them and predict the probability of forest fires.

According to Torsten Marcus, lead developer of ICESat-2, this is not a universal tool, but very close to that. Actually, one of the secondary missions is to study the capabilities of a unique altimeter, in relation to real situations on the planet. The launch of a launch vehicle with a satellite is scheduled for September 15.

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