A Nasa satellite created to precisely measure changes in Earth's ice sheets, glaciers, sea ice and vegetation has been launched into polar orbit.
NASA launched its "Ice, Cloud and land Elevation Satellite-2" or ICESat-2 on September 15.
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.
While 50 lucky social media users will get to experience the action right from Vandenberg, as reported by the Inquisitr, the rest of the world can tune in on NASA Live to watch the last flight of the Delta II rocket.
Delta 2 rockets have launched scores of satellite telephone relay stations, seven Mars missions - including the Pathfinder, Spirit and Opportunity rovers - numerous NASA astronomy missions, Earth observation satellites and commercial payloads.
ICESat-2 will carry just one instrument, which is called the Advanced Topographic Laser Altimeter System (ATLAS).
The official name is NASA's Ice, Cloud and land Elevation Satellite-2. 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.
After ICESat-2's deployment, four student-built satellites were released into orbit from the rocket's second stage.
Liftoff came at 6:02 a.m. PT from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, after a slight delay in the countdown due to concerns about the chilldown of the rocket's helium bottles.
NASA's Launch Services Program, based at Kennedy Space Center in Florida, is responsible for launch service acquisition, integration, analysis and launch management.
The laser will fire 10,000 times per second into six beams that will shoot hundreds of trillions of photons.
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.
This is "one of the most awesome machines we've ever launched into space", ICESat-2 program scientist Tom Wagner said in a statement.
The ICESat-2 mission cost a little over $1 billion and the spacecraft is about the size of a Smart vehicle.
It also carries twin ELFIN CubeSats.
It will take a measurement every 2.3ft (70cm) along the satellite's path. They will study space weather, how electrons are liberated from the Van Allen radiation belts and experimental technology that could prove useful for future spacecraft.