European Polar Satellite Lost

October 10, 2005

The European Space Agency’s Cryosat spacecraft was lost minutes after lift-off from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome in northern Russia on Saturday Oct. 8. Cryosat, which cost 135 million euros ($164 million) was designed to survey the Arctic ice cap and monitor the worrying signs that is being rapidly diminished by global warming (See IJ Website Sept. 28).

Russian officials said that this was the first time the converted SS-19 intercontinental ballistic missile had failed. Reports indicate that the failure to transmit a command caused the rocket’s second stage to run out of fuel, so it could not eject the probe. The Russians have halted all further flights pending an investigation.

Cryosat was the first of a series of satellites designed to perform “Earth Explorer” missions for the European Space Agency. The satellite missions are configured to be quicker and cheaper than their predecessor, Envisat, a giant earth-monitoring satellite that took more than a decade to build.

Cryosat’s loss comes, however, at a particularly bad time, when more detailed information on the melting of the North Polar ice cap is urgently needed. Other satellites cannot provide the information that Cryosat would have. British scientists have been working on the project since 1998, but it’s by no means sure that the ESA will authorize and fund a replacement satellite.

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