Thales Alenia Space reaches a major milestone in the development of the CRISTAL mission for the European Earth observation program Copernicus

Amendment signed for the development and qualification of the IRIS radar altimeter

Toulouse, June 27, 2022. Thales Alenia Space, a joint venture between Thales (67%) and Leonardo (33%), has signed an amendment to the CRISTAL contract with Airbus Defense and Space, prime contractor for the satellite. The amendment provides for the development and qualification of IRIS, the interferometric radar altimeter for ice and snow, which will be carried on the Copernicus polaR Ice and Snow Topography ALtimeter (CRISTAL) mission. CRISTAL is part of the Copernicus Expansion program of the European Space Agency, in partnership with the European Commission. Copernicus is a European flagship program providing Earth observation and in situ data, as well as a wide range of services for environmental monitoring and protection, climate monitoring and the assessment of natural disasters in order to improve the quality of life of all European citizens.

The signature of this amendment marks a decisive step forward in the CRISTAL mission, intended to measure the thickness of the pack ice and the height of the ice caps, two key indicators of climate change. Thales Alenia Space has completed the first phase of this contract (B2), awarded by Airbus in 2020, for the preliminary design of the altimeter, with the instrument passing its preliminary design review. It is now entering the detailed design, qualification and final development phase (CD phase). The altimeter will be delivered to Airbus in 2025 to be integrated into the CRISTAL satellite, which is scheduled for launch in 2027.

The CRISTAL satellite will be equipped, for the first time, with a Ku/Ka band dual frequency radar altimeter to measure and monitor the thickness of the sea ice and the depth of the overlying snow. Measurements of sea ice thickness will support maritime operations and also help plan activities in polar regions. IRIS will also measure and monitor changes in the height of ice caps and glaciers around the world, using its interferometric radar capabilities. IRIS will significantly improve the measurement accuracy of its predecessor, SIRAL-2 (a Ku-band altimeter only on ESA’s CryoSat-2 Earth Explorer mission), thanks to its dual frequency operation and the addition of a sea ​​surface height measurement capability. The CRISTAL mission operates on a global scope and is a key to better understanding and monitoring the Earth’s climate in a context of rapid climate change.

“Thales Alenia Space is proud to contribute to the CRISTAL mission, which will play a critical role in understanding and monitoring climate change, as a supplier of the IRIS altimeter, which builds on our longstanding expertise in altimetry space and our proven flight experience on SIRAL. -2”, said Hervé Derrey, Chairman and CEO of Thales Alenia Space. “The polar regions have a real influence on global climate patterns, the thermohaline circulation and the global energy balance. A long-term program to monitor the Earth’s polar ice, ocean and snow topography, such as CRISTAL, is therefore extremely important.

The development of the IRIS altimeter will build on the legacy of several state-of-the-art altimeters produced by Thales Alenia Space for major programs, including SIRAL-2, Poseidon 4 on Sentinel-6/Jason-CS, AltiKa on the CNES satellite /ISRO SARAL and KaRIn on the CNES/JPL SWOT satellite. Thales Alenia Space is also the first company to produce an in-orbit proven interferometric SAR altimeter (SIRAL), confirming its unparalleled expertise in electronics and interferometric radar antennas.

Contributions from manufacturers to CRISTAL
Thales Alenia Space in France is prime contractor for the IRIS altimeter, Thales Alenia Space in Belgium supplying the Ku and Ka band semiconductor amplifier power supply, Thales Alenia Space in Italy the ultra- stable and Thales Alenia Space in Spain the S band transponder (SBT).

Thales Alenia Space, world leader in space altimetry
Thales Alenia Space is a world leader in space altimetry, a technique for studying the height of the sea surface, the thickness of sea ice and the level of rivers and lakes, as well as land topography. , the ice cap and the seabed. The company has supplied numerous instruments for oceanography, including the Poseidon altimeters on the Topex-Poseidon and Jason 1, 2 and 3 satellites for CNES. Thales Alenia Space has also built the AltiKa Ka-band altimeter for the Franco-Indian oceanography satellite SARAL and the very high-resolution synthetic aperture radar (SAR) altimeter SIRAL 2 on the Cryosat-2 satellite. ESA, capable of measuring changes in sea ice thickness and continental ice mass balance with unprecedented precision. In addition, Thales Alenia Space provides the SRAL SAR altimeters for Sentinel-3, the SWIM altimeter on the CFOSat satellite for CNES, which measures the wave spectrum, and the SADKO altimeters on the Russian GEO-IK satellites.

Illustrations © Airbus

Drawing on more than 40 years of experience and a unique combination of skills, expertise and cultures, Thales Alenia Space offers cost-effective solutions for telecommunications, navigation, Earth observation, climate management environment, exploration, science and orbital infrastructures. Governments and private industry rely on Thales Alenia Space to design satellite systems that provide anytime, anywhere connectivity and positioning, monitor our planet, improve the management of its resources, and explore our solar system and beyond. of the. Thales Alenia Space sees space as a new horizon, helping to build a better and more sustainable life on Earth. A joint venture between Thales (67%) and Leonardo (33%), Thales Alenia Space is also joining forces with Telespazio to form the parent company Space Alliance, which offers a full range of services. Thales Alenia Space achieved consolidated revenue of approximately €2.15 billion in 2021 and has approximately 8,900 employees in 10 countries with 17 sites in Europe and a factory in the United States.


Sandrine Bielecki
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Catherine des Arcis
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Marija Kovac
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