by Staff Writers
Bonn, Germany (SPX) Apr 12, 2010
Europe's Ice research satellite CryoSat-2, which was built by Europe's leading space company Astrium, is now in orbit. At 14:57 (UK Time), it was launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome (Kazakhstan) on board a Dnepr launcher which has placed the 720 kilogram spacecraft into a polar orbit.
Around 17 minutes after launch the spacecraft separated from the upper stage and sent its first signals to the Malindi (Kenya) ground station. CryoSat-2 will measure the ice coverage at the Earth's poles with previously unattained precision for at least the next three and a half years.
Its predecessor - CryoSat-1 - was lost in 2005 due to a failure of the launcher.
Eckard Settelmeyer, Director Earth Observation and Science at Astrium in Germany, said: "CryoSat-2 will be vital in enabling scientists to accurately monitor climate change. As the prime contractor for this mission, Astrium is proud to have delivered this important satellite to the European Space Agency. CryoSat-2 is yet another example of Astrium's expertise in the design and development of complex satellites."
The CryoSat mission is intended to measure the polar ice sheets and the sea-ice cover which together greatly affect the radiation balance on Earth. If the ice caps of Greenland and Antarctica melt significantly, the runoff could cause changes to the great ocean currents with unforeseen consequences for the world's climate.
Astrium has been the prime contractor for CryoSat-2 with responsibility for an industrial consortium consisting of approximately 31 companies from 17 countries including Thales Alenia Space for the SIRAL instrument. Astrium in Friedrichshafen built the satellite platform and integrated all the instruments.
Astrium is also responsible to ESA for the satellite's performance. The industrial contract is valued at approximately euros 75 million. Astrium was also responsible for the satellite's launch.
Radar altimeter measures ice thickness
CryoSat-2 has two antennas. Similar to the way in which humans use two eyes to see 3-dimensionally, CryoSat's double radar SIRAL will be able to scan the surface very precisely giving an accurate perception of depth. Experts call this radar interferometry.
With this system, an average accuracy of one to three centimetres can be reached. Thus it can also collect data on inhomogeneous ice structures with very steep walls in the polar seas, glaciers or ice sheets.
CryoSat's radar altimeter works day and night and can also penetrate through cloud cover. Therefore, it is particularly suited to monitoring the large polar ice sheets, which are often covered by clouds. The data from the CryoSat mission will provide important information about the rate of change of these huge ice sheets.
Astrium and the ESA's "Living Planet" Earth research programme
Thus, Astrium is the prime contractor for the EarthCARE Earth observation satellite (2013) which is currently under construction and the three-satellite Swarm mission for investigating the Earth's magnetic field (2011).
Astrium also supplied the platform for GOCE which has been successfully "surfing" the Earth's gravitational field since 17 March 2009. Astrium is also the prime contractor for the ADM-Aeolus wind mission and is responsible for developing the Aladin instrument. Additionally, Astrium developed and built the Miras payload of the SMOS mission for the observation of soil moisture and salinity over the oceans, which was launched on 2 November 2009.
Astrium technical expertise will enable the polar ice coverage to be measured with unprecedented accuracy Space Technology News - Applications and Research
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