Tuesday, March 04, 2003

BBC NEWS -- Ahead of China in the Moon Race - EU will orbit the moon this year

Europe's first mission to the Moon looks set for a July blast-off.

Smart 1's primary objective is to test new technologies that can advance future planetary exploration. The craft is using an innovative form of propulsion - an ion thruster - that will take it on a 15-month spiral to the Moon.

Once in orbit around the Earth's satellite, the craft will send back data about the lunar surface and environment and will produce an X-ray map of the Moon. The spectrometer, which is "the size of a toaster", will determine the absolute abundances of key elements (aluminium, magnesium and silicon) in the rocks that make up the lunar surface.

Much of the technology getting a trial on Smart will find its way on to Europe's mission to Mercury which should launch at the end of this decade.

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