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The lead scientist on the CryoSat mission, Duncan Wingham, has called for the programme to be relaunched, arguing that the research it would have done is too important to leave aside.

CryoSat, which was felled mid-launch on Saturday by "an anomaly in the launch sequence", was to be the first of three European "Earth Explorer" satellites.

Its mission was to monitor the changes in thickness of the polar ice sheets and sea ice. Researchers hoped the data it would send back would help them develop new and more accurate models of climate change.

Professor Wingham told the BBC: "The agency [ESA] has already announced that it will look at ways of doing the mission again. The science we are trying to do is very important and we need to find out what is going on in the Arctic."

Although the US has IceSat, another mission dedicated to studying the Earth's ice cover, it carries different instruments to CryoSat. CryoSat's radar altimeter would have provided very precise data on ice-thickness, ESA says, giving scientists a better understanding of the relationship between the planet's ice cover and the climate.

In addition, IceSat's coverage of the poles is not 100 per cent complete. CryoSat would have filled that gap.

ESA says the loss of this mission is extremely unlikely to affect the other two Earth Explorer missions, but adds that it is too early to tell whether a CryoSat Mark II could be built.

Volker Liebig, ESA’s Director of Earth Observation, commented: "We have to analyse which parts and systems are still available, in which time frame it could be achieved and for what cost. Then we have to go to the Programme Board and ask for the decision of ESA’s Member States."

He said that getting a clone of CryoSat up and running would be less expensive that starting the mission from scratch, and that reviving the project would probably take around three years. The original budget was €136m.

ESA is next meeting to discuss its budget in December. Member states' science ministers will have a lot of missions competing for their budgets, including the long-term Aurora project, which will see European space craft travel to Mars, and a possible collaboration with Russia to build Kliper, a rival to the US' Shuttle.

Spokespeople for the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) and the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council (PPARC) in the UK both said it was too early to say how sympathetic the UK would be to proposals to re-run the CryoSat mission.

A spokeswoman for NERC told us: "Obviously, it would be good if it could be resurrected, but there are things that do have to be discussed." ®

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