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Last Updated: Thursday, 23 February 2006, 16:36 GMT
Europe ice mission decision due
By Helen Briggs
BBC News science reporter

Duncan Wingham (ESA)
Duncan Wingham proposed the mission eight years ago
The UK scientist behind the lost Cryosat probe is to learn on Friday whether his mission will be re-built.

Professor Duncan Wingham proposed and masterminded the multi-million-pound satellite, which fell into the Arctic Ocean last year when its rocket failed.

The European Space Agency (Esa) is expected to approve "Cryosat 2" at high level talks in France, amid calls from the worldwide scientific community.

The craft was to study how polar ice is responding to climate change.

Previous data suggests the Earth's ice sheets are thinning in some areas, particularly in the Arctic Ocean where the extent of summer ice reached a record minimum last year.

Software glitch

Professor Duncan Wingham, of University College London, proposed the Cryosat mission in 1998 to answer many of the uncertainties in climate science.

But after years of preparation, the Esa probe was lost soon after lift-off last October from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome in northern Russia, crashing into the very ocean it was meant to monitor.

Russian investigators later concluded that a problem with the onboard software of the upper stage of the Rockot launch vehicle was to blame.

Space officials say a "clone" will be cheaper than the original 90m (135m euro) mission, and could be launched in three years.

Jean-Jacques Dordain, director-general of Esa, has said several times that the importance of the Cryosat mission warrants a re-launch. And European ministers agreed in December that it was a priority.

But the final decision rests with members of Esa's Earth Observation Programme Board who meet on Thursday and Friday at in Paris, France.

The UK's contribution to the relaunch would come from its Esa Earth observation "subscriptions", which are made through the Natural Environment Research Council (Nerc).

Enhanced view

Some of the world's leading scientists have expressed their support for Cryosat 2, saying the data will greatly improve our understanding of climate change.

Among them is Professor Julian Dowdeswell, director of the Scott Polar Research Institute at Cambridge University, UK.

"The Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets are huge repositories and it is the balance between snow and ice on land and the melting of that snow and ice which is one of the major controls on global sea level," he told the BBC News website.

"Therefore we need to know whether those great ice sheets are growing or decaying, and Cryosat allows us to have a very much enhanced view of the magnitude of that change."

An official announcement on the future of Cryosat is expected on Friday.

Q&A: Europe's ice mission
24 Feb 06 |  Science/Nature
Cryosat team desperate to rebuild
10 Oct 05 |  Science/Nature
Cryosat rocket fault laid bare
27 Oct 05 |  Science/Nature
Europe ice mission lost in ocean
08 Oct 05 |  Science/Nature
Earth - melting in the heat?
07 Oct 05 |  Science/Nature

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