Fall from heaven

Published: Monday 31 October 2005

Fatal take off (Credit: ESA)Cryosat, a sattelite of the European Space Agency (esa), plumetted north of Greenland close to the region of the Lincoln Sea near North Pole, with no consequences to populated areas.

The us $168 million worth satellite took off from Russia's Plesetsk Cosmodrome, aboard a modified intercontinental ballistic missile, Rockot. It was carrying a sophisticated radar altimeter, a device that measures the height and angle of ice surfaces with unprecedented precision. Officials assessed the work of the personnel who handled the launch of the Rokot as "excellent" and blamed the crash on "an anomaly in the launch sequence". Early investigations indicate a failure with the onboard flight control system. The error meant that the separation between the rocket's second and third stages did not occur, denying the satellite the final boost it needed to reach the polar orbit.

CryoSat was the first of esa's low-cost projects trying to answer important environmental questions, and provide data on ice extent and volume. The satellite could see ice masses at vastly improved resolutions and determine changes in the wind that shift the ice around.

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