Europe aims for the moon
Artist impression of the SMART-1 spacecraft
November 12, 1999
Web posted at: 12:28 p.m. EST (1728 GMT)
(CNN) -- The European Space Agency will send futuristic, unmanned spacecraft propelled by xenon gas on a lunar exploration mission in 2002 that will test new space technologies, the agency said Thursday.
The budget-priced mission was formally approved at a meeting in Paris this week.
The compact lunar orbiter, called SMART-1, will be launched as an auxiliary payload aboard an Ariane 5 rocket. Once deployed, the craft will use solar electric propulsion to escape Earth's gravity and to power its 17-month cruise to the moon, the agency said in a statement.
The mission represents the first time Europe will use solar electric propulsion as primary propulsion as well as the first time Europe has attempted to send a spacecraft to the moon.
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In recent years, electric propulsion systems have principally been used by near-Earth telecommunications satellites for small orbit corrections. SMART-1 will employ a stationary plasma thruster, which uses xenon gas as a propellant, the agency said.
Electrical solar power will be used to expel the gas at high speed, generating, by reaction, the movement of the satellite.
"Compared with conventional chemical systems, electric propulsion expends very little mass to accelerate a spacecraft. But it ejects the propellant plasma
up to ten times faster than a classical engine and so is ten times more efficient," said Project Manager Giuseppe Racca.
SMART-1 will carry a payload of seven scientific and technological instruments, including an X-ray spectrometer, a micro-imager and an infrared spectrometer.
Among the science issues SMART-1 will study:
The origin of the Earth-moon system.
The thermal and dynamic processes responsible for lunar evolution.
External processes on the moon's surface such as erosion and ice deposition.
The industrial prime contractor for SMART-1 is Swedish Space Corp. of Stockholm, supported by several European subcontractors. The spacecraft's stationary plasma thruster is being provided by SNECMA of Paris.
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