Feeds

ESA's lunar probe closes on target

Moon orbit imminent

  • alert
  • submit to reddit

High performance access to file storage

In a matter of days the European Space Agency's (ESA) SMART-1 spacecraft will enter orbit around the Moon. It will adjust its position and prepare for the scientific investigation of the lunar surface that will begin in January.

SMART stands for Small Missions for Advanced Research and Technology. Its main mission is to gather data that will help us understand how the Moon was formed. Current theory holds that the Moon is the result of a collision between the Earth and another body, approximately the size of Mars.

The satellite carries seven instruments including an infrared spectrometer, an imaging camera and D-CIXS, the X-ray spectrometer. It will conduct its 12 experiments over a period of six months. The instruments will send back data about the Moon's surface, orbit and plasma environment. Data on the moon's composition will help scientists develop a clearer idea of what happened when the moon was formed.

Lift off! - picture ESA

Once in the right orbit, the probe also will scan the lunar surface for resources for future, manned, missions. It will survey the craters at the South Pole, something that has never been done before, and will map the Peak of Eternal Light, a mountain top that is permanently sunlit. Scientists expect that craters near the mountain will contain water ice.

Lord Sainsbury, the government minister for science and technology, commented: "Mankind has looked at the Moon for centuries, been inspired by its beauty and wondered at its origin. With SMART-1, Europe is going to the Moon for the first time, at low cost and with exciting new technology. Best of all, we will do important science by exploring how the history of the Earth and the Moon is bound together."

The craft was launched from Kourou, French Guiana 13 months ago, and will drop into lunar orbit on 16 November. It has made the trip to the Moon powered by an ion-engine; a revolutionary new solar-electric propulsion technology, being tested for the first time on this voyage. Its path to the moon consisted of an ever increasing spiral orbit around Earth that gradually brought it closer to lunar capture point.

The craft's engine converts solar energy into electricity. This is used to heat the xenon fuel on board. On its 13-month, 380,000km journey it has used just 60kg of fuel, making it 10 times more efficient than traditional rockets. The British National Space Centre points out that a Mini would only be able to travel 1600 km on 60 kg of petrol. We'd like to add, however, that it would cover 380,000km rather faster. ®

Related stories

Titan hangs on to its secrets
Lack of cash killed Beagle 2
NASA re-schedules Swift launch
Student-designed satellite set for space

High performance access to file storage

More from The Register

next story
Fancy joining Reg hack on quid-a-day challenge?
Recruiting now for charity starvation diet
Red-faced LOHAN team 'fesses up in blown SPEARS fuse fiasco
Standing in the corner, big pointy 'D' hats
KILLER SPONGES menacing California coastline
Surfers are safe, crustaceans less so
LOHAN's Punch and Judy show relaunches Thursday
Weather looking good for second pop at test flights
Discovery time for 200m WONDER MATERIALS shaved from 4 MILLENNIA... to 4 years
Alloy, Alloy: Boffins in speed-classification breakthrough
Elon Musk's LEAKY THRUSTER gas stalls Space Station supply run
Helium seeps from Falcon 9 first stage, delays new legs for NASA robonaut
Top Secret US payload launched into space successfully
Clandestine NRO spacecraft sets off on its unknown mission
New FEMTO-MOON sighted BIRTHING from Saturn's RING
Icy 'Peggy' looks to be leaving the outer rings
prev story

Whitepapers

Top three mobile application threats
Learn about three of the top mobile application security threats facing businesses today and recommendations on how to mitigate the risk.
Combat fraud and increase customer satisfaction
Based on their experience using HP ArcSight Enterprise Security Manager for IT security operations, Finansbank moved to HP ArcSight ESM for fraud management.
The benefits of software based PBX
Why you should break free from your proprietary PBX and how to leverage your existing server hardware.
Five 3D headsets to be won!
We were so impressed by the Durovis Dive headset we’ve asked the company to give some away to Reg readers.
SANS - Survey on application security programs
In this whitepaper learn about the state of application security programs and practices of 488 surveyed respondents, and discover how mature and effective these programs are.