Brussels, 12 Aug 2003
Final preparations are currently being made for the launch of Europe's first Moon probe, SMART-1, due to take place in Kourou, French Guiana, in the early hours of 29 August.
SMART-1, developed by the European Space Agency (ESA), will be powered by an ion engine, the first time that this method of spacecraft propulsion will have been tested by Europe. It is expected to be 'captured' by the Moon's gravity in December 2004, and will then begin using its engine to slow down and reduce the altitude of its lunar orbit.
This first small mission for advanced research in technology (SMART) is aimed at demonstrating innovative and key technologies which could be used in future deep space science missions, particularly the new solar electric propulsion system.
Although intended as a guinea pig in this sense, SMART-1 will perform an unprecedented scientific study of the Moon on its arrival. It will search for signs of water or ice in craters near the Moon's poles, provide data on the origin of the Moon, and reconstruct its evolution by mapping its topography and the surface distribution of minerals and key chemical elements.
The spacecraft will be carried onboard an Ariane 5 launcher, along with two commercial payloads, from the Indian Space Organisation and Eutelsat.