Sat, Apr 05, 2003
Smart-1 To Use Ion Propulsion System
It relies on the sun to power it on a mission to the moon.
Europe's first lunar probe was unveiled Thursday by the European
The craft, known as the Smart-1, will be launched in July for a
two-year mission orbiting the moon to look for water, believed to
be hidden deep in craters on the lunar surface. The satellite will
also gather evidence to test the theory that the moon was created
when a giant asteroid struck Earth during the early days of the
Light Weight But No Lightweight
Weighing just 815 pounds (370 kilograms) and costing $108
million, the craft is part of a European strategy to build
spaceships smaller and more cheaply than NASA.
Smart-1’s solar-powered ion engines provide only a
minuscule thrust, but can be run over a much longer period than the
traditional chemical rocket thrusters used by earlier spacecraft.
The technology was tested on NASA’s Deep Space 1 probe, which
was launched in 1998 and was sent past an asteroid and a comet.
Scientists at the European agency believe the engines will be an
indispensable part of making longer space voyages to Mercury and
The Long Way
It will take Smart-1 three months after its launch from Kourou,
French Guiana, to maneuver into orbit with the moon, and several
more weeks to move into a tight lunar orbit. Once there, the
satellite will use infrared light to search for water. The mission
will also use X-rays to map the chemical composition of the entire
Project scientist Bernard Foing said if heavy elements such as
iron are found to be relatively rare compared to lighter elements
such as magnesium, it would strongly support the theory that the
moon was formed from debris caused by a massive collision between
the Earth and an asteroid or other heavenly body around 4.5 billion
“It’s believed that about the moon will be 80
percent composed of Earth material,” Foing said.
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