SMART-1 lunar spacecraft

SMART-1 lunar spacecraft

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Credit: CHRISTIAN DARKIN/SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY

Caption: SMART-1 lunar spacecraft heading to the Moon. This spacecraft is the first part of the European Space Agency (ESA) SMART (Small Missions for Advanced Research in Technology) programme. It is the first ESA spacecraft to travel to and orbit the Moon. It is propelled by a new type of engine called an ion drive. This works by accelerating xenon ions in a magnetic field. The ion drive only provides a small amount of thrust, but it is very light and more efficient than a conventional engine. Craft powered by ion drives will be able to reach greater speeds than rocket-propelled craft, although the acceleration is slower. SMART-1 is due to arrive at the Moon in December 2004.

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