Ice explorer working well

┬áThe radar instrument on Europe’s
Cryosat-2 spacecraft has been switched on and is reported to be working well.

The satellite, which was launched
last Thursday from Kazakhstan, will use the equipment to map the thickness and
shape of the Earth’s polar ice cover.

Controllers must now check all of
Cryosat’s systems while a calibration team fine-tunes the radar.

The science phase of the mission is
expected to start in a few months’ time and continue through to at least 2013.

Cryosat is the latest Earth
observation venture to be flown by the European Space Agency.

A command was sent from its
operations centre in Darmstadt, Germany, on Sunday to activate the satellite’s
SAR/Interferometric Radar Altimeter.

The instrument then acquired sample
data over the Antarctic and Arctic for relay back to Earth.

“We’ve tried the instrument
out in all its modes,” said Esa project manager Dr Richard Francis.

“The very first time we
switched it on, it worked brilliantly,” he said.

Siral advances the technology flown
on previous European radar missions, such as ERS and Envisat.

It has an along-track (straight
ahead) resolution of about 250m, which will allow it to see the gaps of open
water between the protruding sea-ice floes of the Arctic.

With centimetre-scale
accuracy, the altimeter will measure the difference in height between the two
surfaces so scientists can work out the overall volume of the marine cover.