Science: Europe's First Mission Prepares for the Moon

Society | March 7, 2003, Friday // 00:00

Europe's first mission to the Moon looks set for a July blast-off. Scientists and engineers working on the Smart 1 spacecraft are hoping to fly around the 15th of July but it all depends on the condition of the launcher.

Currently, Europe's rockets are grounded following the high-profile failure of a vehicle in December last year.

But it seems the rocket's operators, Arianespace, are confident enough about the outcome of a post-accident review of systems to give Smart 1 a provisional launch date.

The news is a big fillip for everyone working on Smart 1. Originally pencilled in for a March launch, there were fears the lunar mission would be put back many months following the loss of the Ariane 5-ESCA rocket over the western Atlantic on 11 December.

Hopefully, the spacecraft - which is undergoing final testing - will soon be transported to Europe's spaceport at Kourou in French Guiana and mounted on its launcher.

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 - again trialling novel technologies.

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