ICESat (Ice, Cloud, and Land Elevation Satellite), part of NASA's Earth Observing System, is a satellite mission for measuring ice sheet mass balance, cloud and aerosol heights, as well as land topography and vegetation characteristics. ICESat was launched 12 January 2003 on a Boeing Delta II rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California into a near-circular, near-polar orbit with an altitude of approximately 600 km.

The ICESat mission was designed to provide elevation data needed to determine ice sheet mass balance as well as cloud property information, especially for stratospheric clouds common over polar areas. It provides topography and vegetation data around the globe, in addition to the polar-specific coverage over the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets.

The sole instrument on ICESat is the Geoscience Laser Altimeter System (GLAS), a space-based LIDAR. GLAS combines a precision surface LIDAR with a sensitive dual-wavelength cloud and aerosol LIDAR. The GLAS lasers emit infrared and visible laser pulses at 1064 and 532 nm wavelengths. As ICESat orbits, GLAS produces a series of approximately 70 m diameter laser spots that are separated by nearly 170 m along the spacecraft's ground track. to repeat every 8 days. During August and September 2004, the satellite was maneuvered into a 91-day repeating ground track for the main portion of the mission.

ICESat was designed to operate for three to five years. Testing indicated that each GLAS laser should last for two years, requiring GLAS to carry three lasers in order to fulfill the nominal mission length. During the initial on orbit test operation, a pump diode module on the first GLAS laser failed prematurely on 29 March 2003. A subsequent investigation indicated that a corrosive degradation of the pump diodes, due to an improper material usage in manufacture, had possibly reduced the reliability of the lasers. Consequentially, the total operational life for the GLAS instrument was expected to be as little as less than a year as a result. After the two months of full operation in the fall of 2003, the operational plan for GLAS was changed. GLAS now operates for one-month periods out of every three to six months in order to extend the time series of measurements, particularly for the ice sheets.

NASA is studying the possibility of a follow-on mission, "ICESat-II", to continue studying polar ice changes, and biomass and carbon in vegetation. [cite web |title=ICESat II |url= |work=NASA Science Mission Directorate |date=11 March 2008 |accessdate=2008-07-30] The new satellite is tentatively planned for launch in 2015.


External links

* [ ICESat (Goddard Space Flight Center)]
* [ ICESat (Center for Space Research, University of Texas)]

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