NASA Headquarters, Washington, DC
Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, MD

January 26, 1998


Ball Aerospace and Technologies Corp., Boulder, CO, has been selected to provide the spacecraft for the Laser Altimetry Mission scheduled to be launched in a near-polar orbit in July 2001.

Total cost of the mission is set at under $200 million, including the launch vehicle and three years of science and data analysis. Total value of Ball Aerospace's delivery order will be announced after the contract is finalized and awarded in early February.

The Laser Altimetry Mission, recently known as ICESAT for Ice, Cloud and land Elevation Satellite, will accurately measure the elevations of the Earth's ice sheets, clouds, and land and answer fundamental questions about the growth or shrinkage of the Earth's polar ice sheets and future global sea level rise or fall. ICESAT also will measure the heights of clouds for studies of Earth's temperature balance and will measure land topography for a variety of scientific and potential commercial applications.

In addition to providing the spacecraft, Ball Aerospace will integrate and test the primary instrument on the ICESAT satellite, the Geoscience Laser Altimeter System. The laser altimeter is being developed at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, MD, and will provide precise elevation of the land, ice, and clouds that are overflown.

The laser is completely eye-safe to individuals on the ground. It works by transmitting short pulses of infrared light and visible-green light to measure ice sheet elevation and land topography (infrared light) and measurements of clouds and aerosols (green light). The distance from the spacecraft to clouds and to Earth's surface will be determined from measurements of the time taken for the laser pulses to travel to these targets and return. Similar instrumentation has been flown on aircraft over the Greenland ice sheet for proof-of-concept experiments.

The Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets cover 10 percent of the Earth's land area, and contain 77 percent of the Earth's fresh water and 99 percent of its glacier ice. Measurements of the ice sheets are essential for assessing whether future changes in ice volume will add to the sea level rise, which is already occurring, or whether the ice sheets might grow and absorb a significant part of the predicted sea level rise. ICESAT is one in a series of spacecraft for NASA's Earth Science program which will study the Earth's system and the effects of natural and human-induced changes on the global environment.

ICESAT is being developed by a partnership of NASA, industry, and university teams. ICESAT will be placed into an orbit 379 miles above the Earth with an inclination of 94 degrees to the equator. A launch vehicle for the ICESAT mission will be selected from the stable of medium-light expendable launch vehicles. ICESAT's designed lifetime is for three years of operation with a five-year goal.

Ball Aerospace's selection was made through an innovative procurement program developed at NASA to procure, build, and deliver spacecraft faster and more cheaply than ever before. The Indefinite Delivery/Indefinite Quantity contract will make it possible to go from procurement to launch in less than four years.

The ICESAT mission and the development of the laser altimeter instrument will be managed by Goddard for NASA's Earth Science enterprise. More information is available via the Internet at the following URL:

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