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CryoSat-2: A Satellite on an Icy Mission

* Integration start for new research satellite at Astrium
* Global ice measurement from space shall commence in 2009

Friedrichshafen, 14 March 2007

One of the greatest challenges to be met by man in the coming years is to understand and contain the global climate change. This also includes the investigation whether and to what extent the ice masses are changing at the Earth poles. This question shall be answered by Cryosat-2, a new research satellite which is being developed and built by Europe’s largest space company Astrium for the European space agency ESA. First hardware components have arrived these days in the Astrium satellite centre in Friedrichshafen so as to enable the start-up of mechanical integration of CryoSat-2. This satellite is expected to commence its space activities in March 2009.

The scientists, however, assume that the polar ice masses will considerably retreat because of global warming; up to now, there are only a few selective data on the large unpopulated and difficult to access polar regions. The radar satellite CryoSat-2 will alleviate this information deficit and provide a global overview to the researchers.

For at least three and a half years, CryoSat-2 will measure the seaice thickness and changes at the land ice margins with previously unattained precision. The radar satellite data will help to pin down the connection between the melting of the polar ice and the rise of sea levels.

The first CryoSat was completed by Astrium in 2005. But because of a technical launcher defect, in October 2005 the satellite plunged into the Arctic Ocean during the launch attempt. A few months later, ESA decided to build the satellite once again. Design and layout of CryoSat-2 are mainly based on CryoSat-1. Nevertheless, as much as 85 modifications are implemented in CryoSat-2.

Polar ice as a climate factor

Polar ice plays a key role in regulating the global climate. Despite being thousands of kilometres away from the most inhabited areas, the ice has a profound effect on the climate in Europe, Asia and the Americas. Three aspects are most important:

Firstly, the polar ice reflects a large portion of the sunlight. As polar ice melts, less sunlight is reflected leading to the polar regions becoming warmer. Consequently, more ice begins to melt and the reflective capabilities are further reduced. This could result in a self-accelerating cycle of global warming.

Secondly, open water radiates a large quantity of heat during the night. Thick sea-ice has a negative effect on this. To a certain extent, it acts as a thermal blanket and therefore plays a significant part in regulating the heat balance of the Earth.

Thirdly, melting polar ice can greatly affect the ocean currents with unforeseen consequences for the climate. They act as giant heat pumps, distributing the energy stored in the oceans around the globe. The best known example is the Gulf Stream, which transports warm water from the tropical latitudes across the Atlantic to northern Europe.

Radar provides more detailed views of Ice

CryoSat-2 will circle the Earth in a polar orbit at an altitude of 720 kilometres. The special on-board radar instrument will provide data to determine the thickness and circumference of the polar ice sheets and sea-ice cover. Earlier radar satellites, such as the European ERS 1 and 2 or Envisat, are only equipped with a single antenna which enables them to gather information about uniform ice surfaces over a large area. CryoSat-2, on the other hand, has two antennas. Similar to the way in which humans, with two eyes, can see in 3-D, CryoSat's double radar will be able to scan the surface very precisely. 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. The radar altimeter of CryoSat-2 works day or night and can also penetrate clouds. Therefore, it is particularly suited to the research of the large polar ice sheets, which rise up to 4,000 metres above sea level and which are often covered by clouds. The data from the CryoSat mission will provide information about the rate of change of these huge ice sheets.

Astrium and CryoSat-2

Astrium, as the prime contractor for CryoSat-2, is responsible for a consortium of approximately 25 companies. Astrium in Friedrichshafen builds the satellite platform and integrates all instruments. Ultimately, Astrium is responsible to ESA for the reliability of the whole satellite. The industrial contract is valued at approximately € 75 million.

Astrium, a wholly owned subsidiary of EADS, is dedicated to providing civil and defence space systems and services. In 2006, Astrium had a turnover of €3.2 billion and 11,000 employees in France, Germany, the United Kingdom, Spain and the Netherlands. Its three main areas of activity are: the business units Astrium Space Transportation for launchers and orbital infrastructure, and Astrium Satellites for spacecraft and ground segment, and its wholly owned subsidiary Astrium Services for the development and delivery of satellite services.

EADS is a global leader in aerospace, defence and related services. In 2006, EADS generated revenues of €39.4 billion and employed a workforce of more than 116, 000.

Contacts for the media
Rémi Roland
EADS Astrium (FR)
Tel.: +33 (0)1 77 75 80 37

Jeremy Close
EADS Astrium (UK)
Tel.: +44 (0)1438 77 38 72

Mathias Pikelj
EADS Astrium (GER)
Tel.: +49 (0)7545 8 91 23

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