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The European Space Agency (ESA) has signed an agreement, pledging its support of India's first lunar mission, Chandrayaan-1.

India's space agency, the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), launched its first satellite in 1975. It has made many subsequent forays into orbit, developing satellites for Earth observation, remote sensing, telecommunications and weather forecasting. Chandrayaan-1 is India's first space science mission, however, and it is this that ESA wants to support.

In 2007/2008 the ISRO will send a 250 kg remote sensing satellite into lunar orbit. Researchers hope the mission will shed light on the origin and evolution of the solar system in general and the Moon in particular. The mission is expected to last two years, the operational lifespan of the satellite.

Craters: Europe's first snaps of the lunar surface

ESA described the deal as "a strategic element" in its wider agenda. It pointed out that Japan, China and the USA also intend to launch lunar missions in the next few years, and that it is important to stay at the forefront of lunar research.

In return for what it describes as "in-kind" contributions, ESA and its member states will get direct access to the data gathered on the mission.

Under the terms of the agreement, Europe will provide support for three instruments, identical to those on board its own SMART-1 mission: the Chandrayaan-1 Imaging X-Ray Spectrometer; SARA, a Sub-keV Atom Reflecting Analyzer; and SIR-2, a Near-Infrared Spectrometer. India will also get hardware support for the High-Energy X-ray Spectrometer (HEX). ®

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