ICESat-2: Next-Generation Laser Altimetry from Space

Tuesday, 16 December 2014
Charles E Webb, Tom Neumann and Thorsten Markus, NASA Goddard Space Flight Ctr, Greenbelt, MD, United States
Despite technical challenges encountered after its launch in 2003, NASA’s original Ice, Cloud and land Elevation Satellite (ICESat) produced a rich topographic record, and provided our first large-scale assessments of elevation change and mass balance of the polar ice sheets. The lessons learned from this mission, combined with the availability of new technologies, have guided the design and development of the follow-on ICESat-2 mission and its Advanced Topographic Laser Altimeter System (ATLAS). Scheduled for launch in 2017, ICESat-2 will operate year-round, at a lower orbit inclination, extending coverage to +/- 88 degrees latitude, and at a lower altitude, yielding 1,387 revolutions in a 91-day repeat ground track. The ATLAS instrument uses photon-counting detectors to record surface returns from six laser beams, grouped into three pairs, yielding denser spatial coverage and enabling direct measurements of local slopes. As a result, ICESat-2 will provide a more detailed view of the Earth’s surface. Here, we discuss the mission design and concepts of operations. We focus primarily on the strategies being developed for collecting altimetry data over different surfaces, including the ice sheets, sea ice, oceans, vegetation and other scientific targets of opportunity.