ESA’s SMART-1 is successfully making its first orbit of the Moon, a significant milestone for the first of Europes Small Missions for Advanced Research in Technology (SMART) spacecraft.
A complex package of tests on new technologies was successfully performed during the cruise to the Moon, while the spacecraft was getting ready for the scientific investigations which will come next. These technologies pave the way for future planetary missions. SMART-1 reached its closest point to the lunar surface so far - its first ‘perilune’ – at an altitude of about 5000 kilometres at 18:48 Central European Time (CET) on 15 November. Just hours before that, at 06:24 CET, SMART-1’s solar-electric propulsion system (or ‘ion engine’) was started up and is now being fired for the delicate manoeuvre that will stabilise the spacecraft in lunar orbit.
During this crucial phase, the engine will run almost continuously for the next four days, and then for a series of shorter burns, allowing SMART-1 to reach its final operational orbit by making ever-decreasing loops around the Moon. By about mid-January, SMART-1 will be orbiting the Moon at altitudes between 300 kilometres (over the lunar south pole) and 3000 kilometres (over the lunar north pole), beginning its scientific observations.
Franco Bonacina | alfa
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