Quick Facts: Ice, Cloud, and land Elevation Satellite (ICESat)

Mission Introduction

ICESat satellite

ICESat was operated at LASP from 2003 to 2010. The mission data are being distributed and archived at the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) at CU. (Courtesy NASA/GSFC)

ICESat (Ice, Cloud, and land Elevation Satellite) is the benchmark Earth Observing System mission for measuring ice sheet mass balance, cloud and aerosol heights, as well as land topography and vegetation characteristics. From 2003 to 2009, the ICESat mission provided multi-year elevation data needed to determine ice sheet mass balance as well as cloud property information, especially for stratospheric clouds common over polar areas. It also provided topography and vegetation data around the globe, in addition to the polar-specific coverage over the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets.

LASP Roles

LASP provided:


LASP professionals and students completed their role operating the ICESat mission when the satellite was decommissioned because of instrument failure on Aug. 30, 2010. (Courtesy NASA/GSFC)

All ICESat flight operations activities were conducted by LASP in the ICESat Mission Operations Control (IMOC).

Flight operations activities included:

  • Monitoring the health and safety and commanding of the observatory during realtime operations.
  • Post-pass telemetry data acquisition: s-band data playbacks, GPS data
  • Mission planning and scheduling
  • Command generation
  • Engineering data processing and analysis
  • Orbit and attitude determination

The IMOC received telemetry data and sends commands via the NASA Ground Network and from commercial tracking stations contracted by NASA.

LASP Instruments

There were no LASP instruments on board ICESat.

For more information about the ICESat decommissioning, visit:

Quick Facts

Launch date: January 13, 2003
Launch location: Vandenberg Air Force Base, California
Launch vehicle: Boeing Delta II
Mission target: Earth orbit
Mission duration: 7 1/2 years
Other key dates:

  • ICESat decommissioned: August 17, 2010

Other organizations involved:

  • NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC)
  • University of Texas at Austin
  • National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC)