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ICESAT 2 (Ice, Cloud & Land Elevation Satellite 2) is Earth science satellite to measure the polar polar ice-sheets. Scheduled for launch in 2018, ICESAT-2 is the next-generation successor to the original ICESAT satellite, which operated from 2003 to 2010.

NASA selected Orbital to be responsible for the design and fabrication of the ICESAT-2 spacecraft bus, integration of the government-furnished instrument, satellite-level testing, on-orbit satellite check-out, and continuing on-orbit engineering support. It will be based on the LEOStar-3 platform.

ICESAT-2 will use precision laser-ranging techniques to measure the topography of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets and the thickness of sea ice. The mission was recommended by the National Research Council in its 2007 decadal survey of NASA Earth science research priorities. ICESAT-2 supports NASA's Earth science program by helping scientists develop a better scientific understanding of the Earth system and its response to natural or human-induced changes.

From 2003 to 2010, the original ICESAT mission provided multi-year elevation data needed to determine ice sheet mass balances as well as cloud property information, especially for stratospheric clouds common over polar areas. It also provided topography and vegetation data around the globe, in addition to polar-specific coverage over the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets. The next-generation program, ICESAT-2 will continue the scientific data collection with these specific objectives:

  • Quantifying polar ice-sheet contributions to recent and current sea-level change and linkages to climate conditions.
  • Assessing regional signatures of ice-sheet changes to understand mechanisms driving those changes and improve predictive ice sheet models.
  • Estimating sea-ice thickness to examine ice/ocean/atmosphere exchanges of energy, mass and moisture.
  • Measuring vegetation canopy height as a basis for estimating large-scale biomass and biomass change.
  • Enhancing the utility of other Earth observation systems through supporting measurements.

In contrast to the ICESAT design, ICESAT-2 will use a micro-pulse multi-beam approach. This provides dense cross-track sampling to resolve surface slope on an orbit basis. The sensor called Advanced Topographic Laser Altimeter System (ATLAS) will have a high pulse repetition rate of 10 kHz (exact number still TBD) which generates dense along-track sampling of about 70 cm.

This concept has advantages over ICESAT of improved elevation estimates over high slope areas and very rough (e.g. crevassed) areas and improved lead detection for sea ice freeboard estimates.

Nation: USA
Type / Application: Laser Altimetry Mission
Operator: NASA
Contractors: Orbital Sciences Corporation (OSC)
Equipment: ATLAS
Configuration: LEOStar-3
Propulsion: Blowdown hydrazine, four 22 N thrusters and eight 4.5 N thrusters, 158 kg tank capacity
Power: Deployable solar array, batteries
Lifetime: 3 years; 7 years propellant
Mass: 1387 kg
Orbit: 481 km × 481 km, 94.0
Satellite COSPAR Date LS Launch Vehicle Remarks
ICESAT 2 - 2018 Va SLC-2W Delta-7320-10C with ELFIN, IT-SPINS, CHEFsat
Further ICESAT missions: