UK SCIENTISTS IN SMART MISSION TO THE MOON.
The European Space Agency's Science Programme Committee has given the final go-ahead to Smart-1, the first in a new line of space missions designed to demonstrate new technologies.
Smart-1 will be the first ESA spacecraft to orbit the Moon. On board the revolutionary spacecraft will be an innovative science instrument which has largely been designed and built in the U.K. This small, lightweight instrument, known as the Demonstration of a Compact Imaging X-ray Spectrometer (D-CIXS), will reveal the composition of the Moon for the first time.
"Despite decades of research, we have never fully discovered what the Moon is made of," said Dr. Manuel Grande of Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, who is the Principal Investigator for the D-CIXS instrument.
"The Apollo missions only explored the equatorial regions on the Earth-facing side of the Moon, while other spacecraft only investigated surface colour or searched for water and heavy elements," he explained.
D-CIXS will measure the Moon's surface composition by detecting X-rays coming from the lunar surface. It is designed to seek out the different minerals which make up lunar rocks by detecting X-rays emitted from the surface.
"As X-rays from the Sun strike the Moon, they excite the rocky elements such as silicon, calcium, magnesium and aluminium and iron," explained Dr. Grande. "Secondary X-rays produced by these minerals give unique signatures for each element. By studying these emissions, we can tell what the rocks are made of."
"If the Moon is really made of green cheese, we'll be the first to tell the world," he added.
The U.K. team hopes that D-CIXS will be the first of a new generation of X-ray imagers for future planetary observation, including a possible mission to the innermost planet, Mercury.
Contributions to the development of D-CIXS have also been made by the University of Sheffield; Queen Mary & Westfield College (London); the Natural History Museum and the Observatory of University College, London. Other participants include the University of Helsinki (Finland); the Max Planck Institut fur Aeronomie (Germany); the Swedish Institute of Space Physics; and the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (USA).
Funding for the D-CIXS project has been provided by several partner agencies of the British National Space Centre.
SMART-1 is the first of the Small Missions for Advanced Research in Technology of ESA's Horizons 2000 Science programme. Scheduled for launch to the Moon in 2002, the mission's main objective is to demonstrate innovative and key technologies for scientific deep-space missions.
One of these key technologies is a solar electric (ion) engine, which will provide the spacecraft's primary propulsion. This will be the first use of such an ion engine for primary propulsion in Europe and is considered an essential step towards cheaper missions with large velocity requirements, such as a Mercury orbiter.
For further information and pictures visit the ESA Science Web sites at: http://sci.esa.int/smart
Dr. Manuel Grande,Space Science Department,
Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, Chilton,
Oxfordshire, OX11 0QX, UK.
Phone: +44 (0)1235-446501.
Fax: +44 (0)1235-446509