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A SMART WAY TO STUDY THE MOON

Last Updated on Friday, 16 April 2010 15:01
Published on Wednesday, 02 March 2005 00:00

Europe's first mission to the Moon will soon be under way, and UK scientists are looking forward to unravelling some of the secrets of our neighbouring world.

SMART-1 - the European Space Agency's first Small Mission for Advanced Research in Technology -is now expected to lift off from Kourou, French Guiana, just after midnight on Sunday, 28 September.

Although it is primarily intended to demonstrate innovative technologies such as solar-electric (ion) propulsion and autonomous navigation, SMART-1 also carries a number of scientific experiments that will provide new insights into some of the unanswered questions about our nearest celestial neighbour.

On arrival in lunar orbit (expected to be in January 2005), these instruments will search for signs of water ice in permanently shaded craters near the Moon's poles, provide data on the still uncertain origin of the Moon, and reconstruct its evolution by mapping the surface distribution of minerals and key chemical elements.

The main UK contribution is a compact X-ray spectrometer known as D-CIXS (pronounced dee-kicks), which has been developed by Principal Investigator, Professor Manuel Grande, and his team at CCLRC Rutherford Appleton Laboratory. D-CIXS will help to determine the elements that make up the lunar surface and so provide important information about how the Moon was formed.

"Despite decades of research, we have never fully discovered what the Moon is made of," said Professor Grande. "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. D-CIXS will provide the first global X-ray map of the elements that make up the Moon."

"X-rays from the Sun cause atoms in the lunar surface to fluoresce - rather like the gas in the fluorescent tubes that light our offices and homes - so that they emit X-rays of their own. D-CIXS will measure the Moon's composition by detecting these X-rays coming from the lunar surface. The precise energy carried by each X-ray tells us the element that is emitting it."

"This information will provide us with vital clues to help us understand the origins of our Moon."

In order to create an instrument that is the size of a toaster and weighs just 4.5 kilograms, the D-CIXS team had to miniaturise the components and develop new technology such as novel X-ray detectors - based on new swept charge devices (similar to the charged couple devices found in digital cameras) and microfabricated collimators with walls no thicker than a human hair.

Other UK institutions involved in D-CIXS are:- University of Sheffield, Queen Mary University of London, Natural History Museum, Armagh Observatory, University College London, Mullard Space Science Laboratory and the University of Manchester.

Dr. Sarah Dunkin of CCLRC-RAL and University College London is also a Co-Investigator on the SMART-1 Infrared Spectrometer (SIR), which will search for ice and produce a global map of lunar minerals.

The main UK industrial involvement is by SEA Group Ltd, who helped to develop the Ka-band Telemetry and Telecommand Experiment (KaTE) which will test more efficient communication techniques for deep space missions.

NOTES FOR EDITORS:

SMART-1 will be launched from Europe's spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana. Lift-off is currently scheduled for the night of September 27-28, 2003 during the following launch window: 8:02 p.m. to 8:21 p.m. on Saturday, September 27, local time in Kourou. 00:02 a.m. to 00:21 a.m. UK time on Sunday, September 28.

CCLRC-RAL will be hosting an event with a live feed of the launch, with members of the team available on the night for comment. SMART-1 launch updates are available by phone at +44 (0)1235-446433. Live coverage of the launch will be web streamed at http://www.sstd.rl.ac.uk/launches/

SMART-1 will share the Ariane 5 launcher with two commercial payloads:- the Indian Space Research Organisation's Insat 3 E and Eutelsat's e-bird communication satellites. The smallest spacecraft in the trio, SMART-1, will travel in the lower position, inside a cylindrical adapter, and will be the last to be released.

SMART-1 is an example of a 'faster, better, cheaper' mission. It has been developed in less than four years for a cost of only 110 million euros, including the launch, operations and a dozen scientific experiments. This is about one fifth of the cost of a major ESA science mission.

The spacecraft will be powered only by an ion engine, which Europe will be testing for the first time as the main spacecraft propulsion. This engine uses electrical power produced by the solar panels to accelerate ions (charged particles) of xenon gas. Since the engine will generate a very gentle thrust, equivalent to the weight of a postcard, SMART-1 will be accelerated just 0.2 millimetres per second per second. However, it should be able to push the spacecraft through space for many months, much longer than traditional engines using chemical propellants.

The mission will also test miniaturised spacecraft equipment and instruments, an autonomous navigation system, and a laser communication link between the Earth and the spacecraft.

SMART 1 will take about 15 months to reach the Moon, depending on the launch date and the amount of thrust generated by the novel ion engine. The final science operations will take place from a polar orbit, ranging from 300 kilometres to 10,000 kilometres above the Moon. This elliptical orbit may eventually be circularised if there is enough fuel for an extended mission.

The mission to map the Moon's surface and evaluate the new onboard technologies is expected to last for a minimum of two years, including at least 6 months in lunar orbit.

SMART-1's launch mass is 370 kilograms, with a scientific payload of 15 kg. The spacecraft platform measures 1 cubic metre. Power is generated by solar panels measuring 14 metres across.

D-CIXS SCIENCE TEAM CONTACTS:

Professor Manuel Grande (Principal Investigator)CCLRC,

Rutherford Appleton Laboratory,

Didcot, OXON

Tel: +44 (0)1235-446501.Mobile: +44 (0)7770-652547

Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

 

Dr. Sarah Dunkin (Project scientist and a Co-Investigator on the SIR experiment)CCLRC,

Rutherford Appleton Laboratory/University College London

Tel: +44 (0)1235-446861.

Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

 

Dr. Hugo Alleyne

University of Sheffield

Tel: +44 (0)114-2223504.

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Professor David Hughes

University of Sheffield

Tel: +44 (0)114-2224288.

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Professor Carl Murray

Queen Mary, University of London

Tel: +44 (0)20 -882-5456.

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Dr. Monica Grady

Natural History Museum, London

Tel: +44 (0)207-942-5709.

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Dr. Sara Russell

Natural History Museum, London

Tel: +44 (0)207-942-5074.

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Dr. Apostolis Christou

Armagh Observatory, Northern Ireland

Tel: +44 (0)2837-522928.

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Professor John Guest

University College London

Tel: +44 (0)207-679-2134.

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Dr Chris Owen

Mullard Space Science Laboratory,

University College London

Tel: +44 (0)1483 204281.

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Dr. Ian Crawford

Birkbeck College,

University College London

Tel: +44 (0)207-679-3431.

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UK industrial involvement (KaTE instrument)Nigel Towers,

SEA Ltd, Beckington, Somerset

Tel: +44 (0)1373 852000.

Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

 

Jacky Hutchinson, CCLRC Press Officer

Tel: +44 (0)1235-446482 Mobile: +44 (0)77755-85811

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IMAGES AND FURTHER INFORMATION:

SMART-1 (ESA): http://www.esa.int/smart1 and http://www.sci.esa.int/science-e/www/area/index.cfm?fareaid=10

D-CIXS (RAL): http://www.sstd.rl.ac.uk/SMART-1/index.htm

 

Date: 24 September 2003

Issued by Peter Bond, RAS Press Officer (Space Science).