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“Challenging development” dogs ICESat replacement

Nasa’s next ice measuring satellite will be delayed for at least a year
ICESat-2 will be delayed. Question is whether the ice will still be there when it finally gets into orbit (Photo: Nasa)

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Nasa officials working to develop America’s next generation ice-measuring satellite are grappling with an astronomical cost overrun and a multi-year delay to the planned 2016 launch.

Initially expected to cost $600 million when it was introduced in 2012 as one of the space agency’s top priorities, the ICESat-2 satellite is now facing an additional cost of $200 million.

An acronym for Ice, Cloud and land Elevation Satellite, the ICESat-2 was due to replace a predecessor that was used to estimate polar ice thickness between 2003 and 2009, when its mission came to an end.

SEE VIDEO: Intro to ICESat-2 (at end of article)

During its service, ICESat was instrumental in documenting the thinning ice levels in the Arctic and Greenland.

As a stop-gap measure that allowed the agency to continue to be able to provide data about polar ice, Nasa launched Operation Ice Bridge, which makes measurements of polar ice using aeroplane-mounted equipment.

According to the project’s website, the launch date is 2017, but Michael Freilich, the head of the agency’s Earth Science Division, said earlier this month that launch could be delayed until 2018.

ICESat-2 is troubled by problems with its only instrument: the Advanced Topographic Laser Altimeter System.

SEE RELATED: Documenting the decline

Once in service, ICESat-2 is expected to remain in polar orbit 495km above the earth for three years. It will use the system, which will fire visible, green laser pulses 10,000 times per second, to estimate the thickness of polar ice sheets.

Although the mission is the same as ICESat and Operation Ice Bridge, the system is different from that used by the two preceding missions.

According to Peg Luce, the deputy head of the Earth Science Division, the system was “a very challenging new development” and was requiring more time than expected to develop.