The Southland could be in for an early morning aerial treat Saturday, thanks to the planned launch of a Delta II rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base near Lompoc.
The United Launch Alliance rocket is scheduled for launch at 5:46 a.m., and it will mark the final mission of the Delta II rocket, which has been in use since 1989.
The rocket’s primary payload is NASA’s Ice, Cloud and Land Elevation Satellite-2 — or ICESat-2. The satellite is designed to measure the thickness of Earth’s polar ice sheets.
“Our planet’s frozen and icy areas, called the cryosphere, are a key focus of NASA’s Earth science research,” according to a mission overview. “ICESat-2 will help scientists investigate why, and how much, our cryosphere is changing in a warming climate, while also measuring heights across Earth’s temperate and tropical region and take stock of the vegetation in forests worldwide.”
The rocket will also be carrying four micro-satellites known as CubeSats. Two of them — twin Electron Losses and Fields Investigation CubeSats, or ELFIN, were designed by a team of UCLA students, some of whom are now alumni or graduate students.
According to the university, the micro-satellites each weigh 8 pounds and are about the size of a loaf of bread, and they’re designed to gather scientific data on magnetic storms in near-Earth space.
“Magnetic storms are not just interesting space phenomena,” said Margaret Kivelson, UCLA professor emeritus of space physics. “They can energize electrons to high energies that can damage or even destroy orbiting satellites we depend on for GPS, communications and weather monitoring.
“They can also enhance space electrical currents, which flow onto Earth, and could damage the power grid,” she said. “Space weather research is also crucial for space tourism and space exploration.”
Another of the CubeSats aboard the rocket was built by a team at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. That satellite is the Damping and Vibrations Experiment, or DAVE, and is designed to study “the behavior of particle dampers in microgravity conditions.”
The fourth CubeSat was built by a team at the University of Central Florida.
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