Airbus Defence and Space

CryoSat-2 begins its icy mission

  • Airbus Defence and Space-built research satellite successfully lifts off from Baikonur

  • Airbus Defence and Space technical expertise will enable the polar ice coverage to be measured with unprecedented accuracy

  • Airbus Defence and Space continues to play a leading role in ESA’s “Living Planet” Earth research programme


Baikonur, 8 April 2010 - Europe´s Ice research satellite CryoSat-2, which was built by Europe’s leading space company Airbus Defence and Space, is now in orbit. At 14:57 (UK Time), it was launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome (Kazakhstan) on board a Dnepr launcher which has placed the 720 kilogram spacecraft into a polar orbit. Around 17 minutes after launch the spacecraft separated from the upper stage and sent its first signals to the Malindi (Kenya) ground station. CryoSat-2 will measure the ice coverage at the Earth's poles with previously unattained precision for at least the next three and a half years. Its predecessor - CryoSat-1 - was lost in 2005 due to a failure of the launcher.


Eckard Settelmeyer, Director Earth Observation and Science at Airbus Defence and Space in Germany, said: "CryoSat-2 will be vital in enabling scientists to accurately monitor climate change. As the prime contractor for this mission, Airbus Defence and Space is proud to have delivered this important satellite to the European Space Agency. CryoSat-2 is yet another example of Airbus Defence and Space´s expertise in the design and development of complex satellites."


The CryoSat mission is intended to measure the polar ice sheets and the sea-ice cover which together greatly affect the radiation balance on Earth. If the ice caps of Greenland and Antarctica melt significantly, the runoff could cause changes to the great ocean currents with unforeseen consequences for the world’s climate.


Airbus Defence and Space has been the prime contractor for CryoSat-2 with responsibility for an industrial consortium consisting of approximately 31 companies from 17 countries including Thales Alenia Space for the SIRAL instrument. Airbus Defence and Space in Friedrichshafen built the satellite platform and integrated all the instruments. Airbus Defence and Space is also responsible to ESA for the satellite’s performance. The industrial contract is valued at approximately €75 million. Airbus Defence and Space was also responsible for the satellite’s launch.


Radar altimeter measures ice thickness


CryoSat-2 will circle the Earth in a polar orbit at an altitude of 720 km. Its radar will measure the thickness and circumference of the polar ice sheets and sea-ice cover. CryoSat-2 has two antennas. Similar to the way in which humans use two eyes to see 3-dimensionally, CryoSat's double radar SIRAL will be able to scan the surface very precisely giving an accurate perception of depth. 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.

CryoSat's radar altimeter works day and night and can also penetrate through cloud cover. Therefore, it is particularly suited to monitoring the large polar ice sheets, which are often covered by clouds. The data from the CryoSat mission will provide important information about the rate of change of these huge ice sheets.


Airbus Defence and Space and the ESA's "Living Planet" Earth research programme 


CryoSat is a so-called Earth-Explorer mission of ESA's "Living Planet" Earth research programme and the first radar mission specifically designed to investigate the polar ice sheets. Airbus Defence and Space is also actively involved in developing other satellites of the Earth Explorer missions. Thus, Airbus Defence and Space is the prime contractor for the EarthCARE Earth observation satellite (2013) which is currently under construction and the three-satellite Swarm mission for investigating the Earth's magnetic field (2011). Furthermore, Airbus Defence and Space supplied the platform for GOCE which has been successfully "surfing" the Earth's gravitational field since 17 March 2009. Airbus Defence and Space is also the prime contractor for the ADM-Aeolus wind mission and is responsible for developing the Aladin instrument. Additionally, Airbus Defence and Space developed and built the Miras payload of the SMOS mission for the observation of soil moisture and salinity over the oceans, which was launched on 2 November 2009.


About Airbus Defence and Space


Airbus Defence and Space, a wholly owned subsidiary of AIRBUS Group, is dedicated to providing civil and defence space systems and services. In 2009, Airbus Defence and Space had a turnover of €4.8 billion and more than 15,000 employees in France, Germany, the United Kingdom, Spain and the Netherlands. Its three main areas of activity are Airbus Defence and Space for launchers and orbital infrastructure, Airbus Defence and Space for spacecraft and ground segment and Airbus Defence and Space for the development and provision of secure and commercial satcoms and networks, high security satellite communications equipment, geo-information products and services, and navigation services.


AIRBUS Group is a global leader in aerospace, defence and related services. In 2009, AIRBUS Group generated revenues of €42.8 billion and employed a workforce of more than 119, 000.


Press contacts:

Daniel Mosely (Airbus Defence and Space UK)                                                      Tel.: +44 (0)1 438 77 8180

Matthieu Duvelleroy (Airbus Defence and Space FR)                                              Tel.: +33 (0) 1 77 75 80 32

Mathias Pikelj (Airbus Defence and Space GER)                                                   Tel.: +49 (0) 7545 8 9123

Ralph Heinrich (Airbus Defence and Space GER)                                                   Tel.: +49 (0) 89 607 33971

Francisco Lechón (Airbus Defence and Space SP)                                                 Tel.: +34 91 586 37 41


More information on






CryoSat-2 Figures:


Mass:                                                   720 kg

Dimensions:                                        4.6 x 2.34 x 2.2 m

Payload:                                               Radar altimeter (SIRAL)

                                                              Data receiver (DORIS)

                                                              Laser retro-reflector

                                                              Star trackers (3)

Height resolution:                              1 to 3 cm

Horizontal resolution:                       approx. 300 m

Industrial contract:                             approx. 75 million euros

Mission duration:                               at least 3.5 years

Orbit:                                                    720 km altitude,

                                                              92 degrees inclination


Industrial Consortia:


Airbus Defence and SpaceEnvironmentCryoSatClimate