CryoSat Reflight Will Depend on ESA Budget

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Faced with an unclear budget picture, European authorities said they cannot guarantee they will rebuild the CryoSat radar Earth observation satellite that was lost Oct. 8 in a launch failure.

CryoSat, designed to study the polar ice sheets for three years, was built for 70 million euros ($84 million) by an industrial team led by EADS Astrium. The entire CryoSat program, including the launch aboard a Russian Rockot vehicle, ground installations and three years of operations, was budgeted at 136 million euros.

The European Space Agency (ESA) did not insure the CryoSat launch. ESA’s director of Earth observation, Volker Liebig, said the agency is preparing a multiyear budget proposal for its 17 member governments in December and will not know before then whether funds may be available for a duplicate mission.

Also unclear, Liebig said, is whether the industrial contractors could build a second model for less money than the first.

“We will have to talk to industry to see what proposal they may have, and we have to wait to see what our member governments decide in December about our longer-term budget,” Liebig said Oct. 8 after watching the launch here at ESA’s Esrin Earth observation center. “Then our program board decides.”

ESA’s Earth observation program board decides missions within the financial envelope provided by the agency’s member governments.

Liebig and other ESA and European government and industry officials watched the Cryosat launch here via a live transmission from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome in northern Russia. It is from there that Eurockot Launch Services GmbH of Bremen, Germany, operates the commercial Rockot vehicle, a modified SS-19 ballistic missile fitted with the Breeze-KM upper stage built by the Khrunichev State Research and Production Space Center of Moscow. Khrunichev and EADS Space Transportation of Germany are joint-venture partners in Eurockot.

Eurockot has conducted five successful commercial missions, plus one Russian government mission. Until CryoSat, all have been successful.

The Oct. 8 live transmission from Plesetsk left Eurockot and ESA officials surprised and frustrated after Russian launch-site authorities gave false information about the status of the launch long after the satellite and the rocket’s second and third stages fell into the Arctic Ocean.

“What we have seen here is two failures,” said Mathias Oehm, chief executive of Eurockot. “We have a launch failure, and we have an information failure.”

Liebig said he could not understand why Russia did not inform its customer of the CryoSat problem until nearly four hours after the failure occurred.

Liebig and Oehm also were at a loss to explain why Russia’s broadcast of the launch announced that the rocket’s performance had been confirmed as perfect.

Apparently as a favor to their customer, Russia’s Military Space Forces, which operate the Plesetsk site, announced key launch events — principally the ignition of each of Rockot’s three stages — in English. The announcements duly reported the liftoff and the alleged separation of the first and second stages. All were reported as occurring smoothly, as was the first of two planned burns of Rockot’s Breeze upper stage.

The broadcast from Plesetsk then ceased, as planned, for the 90-minute cruise phase during which CryoSat and the Breeze stage would be out of contact with Russian ground stations. ESA’s Redu, Belgium, ground station then was supposed to track the satellite.

But the 6:31 p.m. acquisition by ESA’s Redu station never occurred. Liebig said at the time that several tracking stations would be employed to search for the satellite in the hope that it had only slightly deviated from its planned orbit.

Liebig and Oehm later said they thought the mission announcements from Plesetsk were based on telemetry data from the rocket, not just a recital of what was supposed to happen.

In fact, the Rockot’s second stage never separated from the Breeze stage, and the Breeze stage never began operating.

ESA received word from Khrunichev at 9 p.m. that the second stage continued to operate long after it was supposed to shut down and separate from the Breeze stage. The cause, ESA said, was “a missing command from the on-board flight control system. Thus, the combined stack of the two stages and the CryoSat satellite fell into the nominal [second-stage] drop zone north of Greenland, close to the North Pole, in high seas with no consequences to populated areas. “