Cryosat rocket fault laid bare (BBC)

27 October 2005, By Helen Briggs, BBC News science reporter

The rocket launched from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome in Russia
Russian space officials have identified the rocket fault that led to the loss of Europe’s Cryosat satellite. A problem with the onboard flight control system of the newly-built upper stage of the rocket was to blame.

The Russian state commission report clears the launcher for future use. It was grounded on 8 October when the mission to map the Earth’s ice sheets fell into the ocean shortly after lift-off from Plesetsk in Russia.

The £90m (135m euro) satellite was riding atop a Rockot launch vehicle, a former military rocket modified by the addition of a newly-manufactured Russian-made component, the Breeze upper stage.

The Russian Failure Investigation State Commission says a set of measures is being implemented to prevent a recurrence of the incident.

“We confirm from the information we have from the State Commission that there was a problem with the software flight control system in the Breeze upper stage of the launcher,” European Space Agency spokesperson, Simonetta Cheli, told the BBC News website.

“This problem caused the failure of the shutdown of the engine of the second stage of the launcher.” The error meant that separation of the rocket’s second and third stages did not happen, denying the satellite the final boost it needed to reach orbit and causing it to nosedive into the sea.

A board set up by the rocket operator, Eurockot, is to review the findings of the State Commission next week. The British scientist who proposed the mission, Prof Duncan Wingham, is calling for the spacecraft to be re-built.

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