Europe is going to the Moon for the first time! In just over two weeks the European Space Agency’s (ESA) lunar probe, SMART-1, begins its journey to the Moon. Due to be launched from Kourou in French Guiana on 3rd September (12.04 a.m. 4th September BST) SMART-1 will be powered only by an ion engine which Europe will be testing for the first time as the main spacecraft propulsion. Onboard will be D-CIXS, an X-ray spectrometer built by scientists in the UK, which will provide information on what the Moon is made of.
SMART-1 represents a new breed of spacecraft. It is ESA’s first Small Mission for Advanced Research in Technology – designed to demonstrate innovative and key technologies for future deep space science missions. As well as the ion propulsion mechanism SMART-1 will test miniaturised spacecraft equipment and instruments, a navigation system which in the long term will allow spacecraft to autonomously navigate through the solar system, and a space communication technique whereby SMART-1 will establish a link with the Earth using a laser beam.
Once it has arrived at the Moon (expected to be in January 2005), SMART-1 will perform an unprecedented scientific study of the Moon– providing valuable information which will shed light on some of the unanswered questions. The spacecraft will search for signs of water-ice in craters near the Moon’s poles, provide data on the still uncertain origin of the Moon and reconstruct its evolution by mapping and the surface distribution of minerals and key chemical elements.
Julia Maddock | alfa
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