Airbus Defence and Space

“Icy Mission” for Cryosat-2


  • Airbus Defence and Space-built research satellite ready for launch
  • Airbus Defence and Space has proven the satellite is “space qualified”
  • The satellite will provide data on ice coverage in 3D


Ottobrunn, 14 September 2009 – Airbus Defence and Space announced today that CryoSat-2, the new research satellite is ready to perform its icy mission. The satellite will investigate whether, and to what extent, the Earth’s polar ice caps are changing. 


François Auque, CEO of Airbus Defence and Space,  Europe’s largest space company, is a keen supporter of the mission: “For the first time a European satellite built by Airbus Defence and Space will provide accurate data on the volume of ice coverage. It will give scientists a global overview and enable them to compile a detailed picture on how and where the ice is melting. It is an important advance in the assessment of climate change and demonstrates how industrial technologies benefit everyone on Earth.”

Airbus Defence and Space is 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 reliability of the whole satellite. The industrial contract volume is valued at approximately €75 million.

CryoSat-2, completed in September 2009, has now reached another milestone on its way to space. In a test campaign conducted at IABG for Airbus Defence and Space which lasted for several months, Airbus Defence and Space has proved that the satellite is “space qualified” and ready for use in space. In December of this year, CryoSat-2 will be transported to the Russian Space Centre in Baikonur (Kazakhstan) to be launched for its icy mission in early 2010.


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

For at least three and a half years, CryoSat will measure the ice coverage at the Earth's poles with previously unattained precision. The satellite will be able to precisely measure the sea-ice thickness and with the help of its two radar antennas, the changes at the land-ice margins. In addition, the radar satellite data will help determine the connection between the melting of the polar ice caps and the rise in sea levels.


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


CryoSat is a so-called Earth-Explorer mission within  ESA's "Living Planet" Earth research programme and the first radar mission specifically investigating the polar ice masses. Airbus Defence and Space is also involved in other Earth Explorer satellite missions. It is the prime contractor for the EarthCARE Earth observation satellite which is currently being built and for the three-satellite Swarm mission for investigating the Earth's magnetic field. Furthermore, Airbus Defence and Space supplied the platform for GOCE which has been successfully "surfing" the Earth's gravitational field since March 2009. Airbus Defence and Space is also the prime contractor for the ADM-Aeolus wind mission for which it is responsible for developing the Aladin instrument. Additionally, Airbus Defence and Space has developed and built the Miras payload for the SMOS mission for the observation of soil moisture and salinity over the oceans. From spring 2010, CryoSat-2 will be the third Earth Explorer in space together with GOCE (2009) and the SMOS mission which is due to be launched in November this year.


Airbus Defence and Space, a wholly owned subsidiary of AIRBUS Group, is dedicated to providing civil and defence space systems and services. In 2008, Airbus Defence and Space had a turnover of €4.3 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 delivery of satellite services.

AIRBUS Group is a global leader in aerospace, defence and related services. In 2008, AIRBUS Group generated revenues of €43.3 billion and employed a workforce of more than 118, 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

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


  • 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


Planned launch date:                     early 2010

Earth ObservationSatelliteCryoSatClimate