Part of the Dnepr rocket which will carry the Airbus Defence and Space-built environmental satellite CryoSat-2 into space has been ‘eaten’ by the ‘Crocodile’ – a freight truck at the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.
But there’s no need to panic. It’s actually a stage of the launch preparation campaign running up to the lift-off of the new European satellite scheduled for 25 February. The special cargo transporter at the Baikonur cosmodrome – dubbed ‘Crocodile’ because, with its green colour and giant tailboard, it looks impressively like a gaping-mouthed reptile – uploaded the Space Head Module and transferred its fragile freight to the missile silo.
The CryoSat-2 environmental and climate monitoring satellite is one of the Earth Explorer Opportunity Missions of the European Space Agency’s Living Planet programme.
From its orbit at an altitude of 720 kilometres, Cryosat-2 will investigate whether, and to what extent, the Earth’s polar ice caps are changing. The polar regions play a vital role in the Earth’s climate and ecosystems. Scientists assume that the polar ice masses will retreat considerably due to global warming; up to now, however, there is little selective data on these large, unpopulated and difficult-to-access regions. The radar satellite CryoSat-2 will remedy this information deficit and provide a global overview for researchers.
Prime contractor for the CryoSat mission, Airbus Defence and Space designed and built the satellite, leading a consortium of 31 companies from Europe, the USA and Russia on behalf of ESA.