How three remote-sensing instruments on SMART-1 will scan the Moon’s surface during one pass. Repeated passes will gradually fill in the picture.
Credits: ESA 2002. Illustration by Medialab.
How an ion engine works. Electrons attracted into the discharge chamber collide with xenon atoms from the propellant gas supply, making charged atoms (ions). Current-carrying coils, inside and outside the doughnut-shaped discharge chamber, sustain a magnetic field oriented like the spokes of a wheel. By the Hall effect, ions and electrons swerving in opposite directions in the magnetic field create an electric field. This expels the xenon ions in a propulsive jet. Other emitted electrons then neutralise the xenon, producing the blue jet.
This is clearly Europe´s time for interplanetary exploration. Having sent the first European mission to Mars, ESA is about to launch its first probe to the Moon. It is called SMART-1 and its goals are both technological and scientific. It is the first of a series of "Small Missions for Advanced Research in Technology".
On the one hand, SMART-1 will test new state-of-the art instruments and techniques essential to ambitious future interplanetary missions, such as a solar-electric primary propulsion system. On the other, SMART-1 will answer pending scientific questions, addressing key issues such as the Moon´s formation, its precise mineralogical composition, and the presence and quantity of water. These data will help scientists to understand the Earth-Moon system and Earth-like planets, and will also provide invaluable information when considering a long-lasting human presence on the Moon.
On 15 July 2003, SMART 1 was shipped to the European launch base in Kourou, French Guiana, where it is being prepared for its launch, due to take place on an Ariane-5 rocket on 29 August 2003 (Central European Summer Time).
Franco Bonacina | European Space Agency
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