SMART-1, Europe’s first lunar programme, is a technology demonstrator mission designed to validate the use of electric propulsion for interplanetary missions. France is supplying a stationary plasma thruster and ultra-compact electronic camera for this mission, and contributing to an instrument designed to test our model of the Moon’s origins. It is thus playing a highly innovative role in this programme led by the European Space Agency (ESA) and executed by the Swedish Space Corporation (SSC).

SMART-1 (Small Missions for Advanced Research and Technology) is the first in a series of small research and technology missions aimed at proving new technical and scientific concepts for future science missions.

France is making a highly innovative contribution to the mission, supplying a stationary plasma thruster and ultra-compact electronic camera, and helping through the CESR space radiation research centre to develop the D-CIXS instrument, designed to test our model of the Moon’s origins:

* The thruster and the complete propulsion system, designed and manufactured by Snecma Moteurs on behalf of ESA, have benefited from development work actively supported by CNES in the last decade. This system is the first full-scale application in Europe to use solar-electric propulsion (SEP) as the primary means of propulsion. It will enable the probe to reach the Moon in 15 to 17 months with a minimum of xenon fuel. In years to come, the mass savings made possible by this type of system will leave more room for science equipment and open new avenues for interplanetary exploration. In the near future, “all-electric” geostationary telecommunication satellites will also be able to carry twice the payload mass currently possible with traditional propulsion systems. Stationary plasma thruster technology, which was first developed in the 1950s and became reality in 1972 on Soviet spacecraft, has only ever been used before for orbit correction and attitude control. In the early 1990s, Russian, U.S. andEuropean manufacturers, including Snecma Moteurs in France, agreed to jointly develop and market this type propulsion system.

* France’s other contribution to the SMART-1 mission is just as innovative. The AMIE ultra-compact electronic camera (Asteroid-moon Micro-Imager Experiment) was developed by CSEM, the Swiss Centre for Electronics and Microtechnology, as part of a CNES research and technology programme in partnership with the IAS space astrophysics institute. This camera will take precise pictures of the Moon’s surface to study its morphology, topography and texture, compress them and then record them on board for transmission to Earth. Initially conceived to demonstrate miniaturization technologies, AMIE weighs just 450 grams, optics and electronics included, thanks to the use of ultra-thin printed circuits arranged in vertical sandwich layers.

The SMART-1 lunar probe is a fine example of a high-tech spacecraft working for scientific research. In this field driven not only by scientific and technological challenges, but also by economic and political objectives, CNES is reaffirming its commitment to French scientific research and industry through closer European cooperation.

The SMART-1 lunar probe is scheduled for launch in late September on flight 162 of Europe’s Ariane 5 launcher from the Guiana Space Centre, Kourou, with ISRO’s INSAT-3 and Eutelsat’s e-Bird satellites.

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