A new satellite that will orbit the Earth while bombarding it with lasers is in the final stages of preparation before its launch next month.
Not to worry though, NASA isn't planning a recreation of Independence Day: ICEsat-2 is going up to measure altitude.
The Advanced Topographic Laser Altimeter System (ATLAS) will fire more than 10,000 pulses at our planet every second, using a LIDAR (light detection and ranging) device. By measuring the time that photons take to perform the satellite-to-Earth-to-satellite round trip, it will be able to make highly accurate altitude readings.
Primarily, NASA will use that capability to measure the height of the polar ice caps from sea level. ATLAS will do this four times a year, to monitor seasonal changes in the elevation of sea ice.
NASA said, ‘ICESat-2 data documenting the ongoing height change of ice sheets will help researchers narrow the range of uncertainty in forecasts of future sea level rise and connect those changes to climate drivers.'
The satellite isn't only going to be used four times a year, though. It will also measure water and land height, for a variety of results. Tree measurements (both canopy and ground level) can determine how much carbon is being stored in forests, while observing water height can show reservoir levels, urban water and wave patterns.
The ATLAS satellite will follow another laser-bearing craft into orbit: Aeolus, which was launched by the European Space Agency on the 22nd of August.
Built by Airbus and with multiple components from British businesses, Aeolus will use its 3.4kW laser to measure wind speeds, increasing the accuracy of weather forecasting worldwide.
Science Minister Sam Gyimah said:
"The Aeolus mission is a great example of the potential real-world impacts that space can have on Earth. Its data will lead to more reliable weather forecasts that can be used by farmers, seafarers, construction workers and others to improve productivity and safety."
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