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The United Launch Alliance Delta 2 blasted off from Space Launch Complex 2 at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California at 9:02 a.m. ET.

A United Launch Alliance Delta II rocket carried ICESat-2 into orbit, where it will travel at speeds of more than 15,000 miles per hour. The first Delta II was launched in 1989 from Florida with the first California launch in 1995. Going into Saturday's flight, the boosters had chalked up 154 launches with finest one outright failure in 1997, a hundred flights within the past."I'm a small bit despair about this", NASA Launch Director Tim Dunn acknowledged Thursday. (The last failure was in 1997, when a Delta II carrying a Global Positioning System satellite exploded seconds after leaving the pad.) As noted by the Verge, prior payloads have included the Spitzer and Kepler space telescopes, the Spirit and Opportunity Mars rovers, and the original ICESat.

Because the satellite's instrument can shoot six laser pulses - not just one - at high speeds, ICESat-2 will be able to observe changes in sea ice coverage and thickness in unprecedented detail.

ICESat-2 will measure the height of ice and its features, such as this glacial melt pond photographed July 16, 2014, over Alaska.

With more than a century of combined heritage, United Launch Alliance is the nation's most experienced and reliable launch service provider.

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In addition to measuring minute changes in sea and land ice, ICE-Sat-2 will use its height-measuring lasers to track sea levels, ocean waves and forest canopies.

"We are really looking forward to making those data available to the science community as quickly as possible so we can begin to explore what ICESat-2 can tell us about our complex home planet", Markus added.

"It's been a very, very prominent part of space history", said Scott Messer, program manager for NASA programs at ULA, during a pre-launch press conference Wednesday (Sep. 13). The satellite's primary instrument will pulse its laser at Earth 10,000 times a second and precisely measure the time it takes the beams to bounce off the ground and return to ICESat-2 to deduce the elevation below within the accuracy of 4 millimeters.

ICESat-2 will orbit Earth's poles, allowing ATLAS to cover the entire planet as it rotates below.

According to the university, the micro-satellites each weigh 8 pounds and are about the size of a loaf of bread, and they're created to gather scientific data on magnetic storms in near-Earth space. 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.