NASA ice-watching satellite crashes into sea

NASA ICESat decommissioned, not expected to add too orbital debris problem

nasa icesat
NASA today said its Ice, Cloud, and land Elevation (ICESat) satellite splashed into the Barents Sea this morning ending a seven year mission to study the Earth's polar zones.

You could say ICESat's science mission ended in February 2010 when its primary instrument failed. The satellite's Geoscience Laser Altimeter System (GLAS) was the first laser-ranging (lidar) instrument for continuous global observations of Earth, according to NASA.  GLAS measured ice-sheet topography,  cloud and atmospheric properties and gave scientists information on the height and thickness of cloud layers needed for accurate short term climate and weather prediction.

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NASA said it began decommissioning the satellite in June. Mission flight controllers began firing ICESat's propulsion system thrusters on June 23 to lower its orbit. Thruster firings ended on July 14, safely reducing the lowest point of the spacecraft's orbit to 125 miles (200 km) above Earth's surface. ICESat was successfully decommissioned on Aug. 14. All remaining fuel on the spacecraft was depleted, and atmospheric drag lowered the craft's until it landed in the sea.

NASA said there won't be any ICEsat pieces remaining on orbit and the craft will not contribute to orbital debris.

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NASA said ICESat's legacy will be the scientific advances it fostered in measuring changes in the mass of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets, polar sea ice thickness, vegetation-canopy heights, and the heights of clouds and aerosols. Using ICESat data, scientists identified a network of lakes beneath the Antarctic ice sheet. ICESat introduced new capabilities, technology and methods such as the measurement of sea ice freeboard - or the amount of ice and snow that protrudes above the ocean surface - for estimating sea ice thickness, NASA stated.

NASA said it was currently planning ICESat-2, expected to launch in 2015. NASA is currently running Operation Ice Bridge, an  airborne survey of Earth's polar ice. The mission is designed to partially fill the data gap between the ICESat and ICESat-2 satellite missions. For the next five years, instruments on NASA aircraft will target areas of rapid change to yield an unprecedented 3-D view of Arctic and Antarctic ice sheets, ice shelves, and sea ice, NASA stated.

NASA recently said another one of its satellites was failing. The Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, or WISE satellite is heating up - not a good thing when your primary mission instrument needs to be kept cold to work.

According to NASA, WISE has two coolant tanks that keep the spacecraft's normal operating temperature at 12 Kelvin (minus 438 degrees Fahrenheit). The outer, secondary tank is now depleted, causing the temperature to increase. One of WISE's infrared detectors, the longest-wavelength band most sensitive to heat, stopped producing useful data once the telescope warmed to 31 Kelvin (minus 404 degrees Fahrenheit). The primary tank still has a healthy supply of coolant, and data quality from the remaining infrared detectors remains high. NASA stated.

NASA said WISE has completed its primary mission, a full scan of the entire sky in infrared light, on July 17, 2010. The mission has taken more than 1.5 million snapshots so far, uncovering hundreds of millions of objects, including asteroids, stars and galaxies. It has discovered more than 29,000 new asteroids to date, more than 100 near-Earth objects and 15 comets, NASA said.

Follow Michael Cooney on Twitter: nwwlayer8  

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