CryoSat Launch Failure Dumps Ice-Monitoring Satellite in the Sea

PARIS, France, October 10, 2005 (ENS) - Launch of the the European Space Agency's ice-monitoring CryoSat satellite failed on Saturday, and the 140 million euro satellite fell into the sea near the North Pole. The satellite now lies on the sea floor beneath the icy waters it would have monitored for the next three years.

A Russian Rokot booster launched the CryoSat satellite from Plesetsk, a launch site in the north of European Russia, Saturday night. The separation of the second stage from upper stage did not occur. So, the combined stack of the two stages and the CryoSat satellite fell into the Arctic Ocean with no consequences to populated areas, the European Space Agency (ESA) said.

Yuri Bakhvalov, First Deputy Director General of the Khrunichev Space Centre on behalf of the Russian State Commission officially confirmed that the launch of CryoSat ended in a failure due to an anomaly in the launch sequence. He apologized and expressed his regret to ESA and all partners involved.


The launch trajectory of the CryoSat mission Saturday night before its plunge into the Arctic Ocean. (Photo by S. Corvaja courtesy European Space Agency)
Preliminary analysis of the telemetry data indicates that the first stage performed normally. The second stage performed normally until main engine cut-off was to occur.

"Due to a missing command from the onboard flight control system the main engine continued to operate until depletion of the remaining fuel," the ESA and Eurockot said in a joint statement late Saturday.

"As a consequence, the separation of the second stage from upper stage did not occur. Thus, the combined stack of the two stages and the CryoSat satellite fell into the nominal drop zone north of Greenland close to the North Pole into high seas with no consequences to populated areas.

An investigating commission by the Russian State authorities has been established to further analyze the reasons for the failure, results are expected within the next weeks. This commission will work in close cooperation with a failure investigation board consisting of Eurockot, ESA and Khrunichev representatives.

The launch site, Plesetsk in the Archangel region, is Russia's most northerly rocket base, used to place mainly military satellites into polar orbit. Until recently Plesetsk was the busiest launch site in the world. It is the only orbital launch site located within European territory.

Volker Liebig, ESA’s Director of Earth Observation said at a media briefing today that the loss of CryoSat means that Europe and the worldwide scientific community "will not be able to improve their knowledge of ice, especially sea ice and its impact on climate change."

CryoSat was meant to be the first satellite of ESA’s Earth Explorer series, missions tailored to respond to specific needs of the international science community.


Volker Liebig is the European Space Agency’s director of Earth Observation. (Photo courtesy ESA)
"CryoSat, the first of the series, was devoted to the study of ice, monitoring precise changes in the thickness of polar ice sheets and sea ice," said Liebig. "In particular, CryoSat was meant to be a very advanced and unique tool for scientists to study trends in the depletion of polar ice and to improve the understanding of the relationship between ice and global climate."

Liebig said the loss does not jeopardize the overall strategy and approach of ESA’s Living Planet Programme, nor of Explorer missions.

"The planned series of dedicated Explorer missions to follow are still on track and will be built as planned," Liebig said. These are: GOCE, devoted to Earth gravity, in 2006, SMOS on soil moisture and ocean salinity, planned for 2007, and ADM-Aeolus on Atmospheric Dynamics.

"Whether there might be delays in the launch dates of future missions due to the launch failure will be assessed once the Investigating Commission of the Russian State authorities has given its results on the reasons for the launch failure. However, it seems to be unlikely, taking into account the long interval between the various launches."

Liebig said the U.S. IceSat satellite mission devoted to ice is not the same as what CryoSat was planned to be. "CryoSat would have had the advantage of a very precise radar altimeter as a unique all-weather tool to measure ice thickness," he said.

CryoSat was intended to orbit nearer to the poles than the existing missions such as IceSat. Cooperation with the United States on IceSat will be investigated by the European scientific team engaged in CryoSat, Liebig said.

In a statement, The Russian space agency Roskosmos says its launch plans will not be altered by the failure of the CryoSat launch. The agency plans to launch seven other booster rockets to launch 11 space probes to the near-Earth orbit. Roskosmos and Space Troops will launch Soyuz, Proton and Rokot carrier rockets from Baikonur and Plesetsk space centers, the press service of Roskosmos said.

The Progress M cargo rocket is to take off from Baikonur on December 21 to deliver supplies to the International Space Station. Three other Proton rockets are slated to take place in December as well. On December 1 Proton M is scheduled to launch the U.S. telecommunication Worldsat 3 satellite.

Roskosmos plans to launch the European Venus Express interplanetary probe from the Baikonur center on October 26.


An artist's drawing of CryoSat in flight (Photo courtesy ESA)
The ESA has not ruled out revitalizing the CryoSat mission and will now look at the possibility of recreating CryoSat together with industry and the scientists. Liebig said, "We have to analyze which parts and systems are still available, in which time frame it could be achieved and for what cost. Then we have to go to the Programme Board and ask for the decision of ESA’s member states."

"We still have many things available like the ground segment and operational budgets," Liebig said. On the other hand it will depend on the price industry is ready to offer for a second model. The industrial contract to build the first satellite was 70 million euro, out of a global envelope of 136 million euro including ground segment, three years of operations and launch costs. A clone of the original CryoSat should be less expensive," he said.

The satellite's main payload was an instrument called Synthetic Aperture Interferometric Radar Altimeter (SIRAL). Previous radar altimeters were optimized for operations over the ocean and land.

SIRAL is the first sensor of its kind designed for ice and would have delivered a detailed record of changes in the thickness of marine ice cover and changes in the elevation of ice sheets on land over a continuous three year period, with an accuracy of one centimeter.

The concept behind the CryoSat mission, approved in 1999, was to respond to the current debate on global warming and the effect this may be having on Earth's polar masses.