The European Space Agency (ESA) has delayed the planned 25 February launch of its CryoSat-2 spacecraft because of concerns about its launcher, a Russian Dnepr rocket. The Dnepr is a converted intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) that in its military role had a 97% launch success rate. As a satellite launcher it has had one failure in 13 launches. ESA says that it is concerned that the second stage steering motor does not have sufficient fuel to ensure CryoSat-2 is placed safely into its required orbit, which is highly inclined (88° from the equator) to give it maximum coverage of polar regions. Ukrainian launch company Yuzhnoye is working to solve the problem, but the launch may be delayed by as much as a month.
CryoSat-2 carries a radar altimeter optimized to measure the extent and thickness of polar ice. It aims to give a more complete picture of the changes taking place in polar regions because of climate change. The original CryoSat spacecraft was destroyed during launch in 2005. It was being carried by a different converted ICBM, a Russian Rockot.
Meanwhile, ESA has chosen three proposed space missions for further study with a view to launching two of them some time after 2017. A total of 52 proposals were whittled down in stages over the past few years to a final three which will now go through a final definition stage before a final decision is made in 2011. The three are Euclid, which will study dark matter and dark energy; Plato, aimed at exoplanets; and Solar Orbiter, which will give us the closest view yet of the sun.