From 10 to 14 October the ion engine of ESA’s SMART-1 carried out a continuous thrust manoeuvre in a last major push that will get the spacecraft to the Moon capture point on 13 November.
Artists impression of SMART-1
Artists impression of SMART-1 ion engine
SMART-1, on its way to the Moon, has now covered more than 80 million kilometres. Its journey started on 27 September 2003, when the spacecraft was launched on board an Ariane 5 rocket from Europe’s spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana. Since then, it has been spiralling in progressively larger orbits around Earth, to eventually be captured by the lunar gravity and enter into orbit around the Moon in November this year.
The SMART-1 mission was designed to pursue two main objectives. The first is purely technological: to demonstrate and test a number of space techniques to be applied to future interplanetary exploration missions. The second goal is scientific, mainly dedicated to lunar science. It is the technology demonstration goal, in particular the first European flight test of a solar-powered ion engine as a spacecraft’s main propulsion system, that gave shape to the peculiar route and duration (13 months) of the SMART-1 journey to the Moon.
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Physicists in the Laboratory for Attosecond Physics (run jointly by LMU Munich and the Max Planck Institute for Quantum Optics) have developed an attosecond electron microscope that allows them to visualize the dispersion of light in time and space, and observe the motions of electrons in atoms.
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