[meteorite-list] Europe's Moon Mission To Scan Giant Crater
From: Ron Baalke <baalke_at_meteoritecentral.com>
Date: Thu Apr 22 10:16:34 2004
Europe's Moon mission to scan giant crater
August 18, 2003
Europe's first mission to the Moon is set to scrutinise the largest crater
in the Solar System, looking for a new type of Moon rock. It will also be on
the lookout for landing sites so that a future robotic mission can bring
ESA's spacecraft, SMART-1 is due to launch on 3 September 2003. It will use
X-rays and infrared light to map the composition of the whole Moon,
including the 2000-kilometre-wide Aitken Basin. The basin sits over the
Moon's south pole and was excavated billions of years ago by the impact of a
giant asteroid or comet.
It is hoped the observations will give a glimpse of a never-before-seen type
of Moon rock: the lunar mantle. The mantle rocks will help astronomers
understand better how the Moon was formed and evolved, but sit beneath the
lunar crust that was sampled by astronauts.
"To reach the mantle rocks you would normally have to drill through a few
tens of kilometres of crustal rock," says Sarah Dunkin, at the Rutherford
Appleton Laboratory, in Oxfordshire, UK. "In the Aitken Basin, however, we
believe that a giant meteorite has done the drilling for us." The impact was
so large that calculations suggest the object must have punched its way
clean through the crust to hurl mantle rocks up onto the surface.
Hidden from view
The Aitken Basin's location on the far side of the Moon means it was only
recognised as an impact structure by NASA's Galileo spacecraft 1990. SMART-1
will be the first spaceprobe to conduct a rigorous scientific survey of this
Its human-eye-sized camera will also map the Aitken Basin's topography in
detail. This will help scout out potential landing sights for a robotic
sample-return mission to be led by NASA some time around 2010.
SMART-1 is currently at Kourou, French Guiana, awaiting its launch on an
Ariane-5 rocket. It will take 15 to 18 months to reach the Moon, via a
spiral trajectory. It will be powered by ion engine - a new evolution of the
technology pioneered on NASA's Deep Space 1, 1998.
SMART-1, conceived as a technology demonstrator for future spacecraft, is an
all-new, miniaturised and lightweight spacecraft. It only needs an engine
with a thrust equivalent to blowing on your hand, to waft it to the Moon
and, at two kilograms, its infrared spectrometer is 10 times lighter than
any previous instrument.
The mission will cost 110 million Euros, but David Southwood, director of
science at ESA, says: "To do SMART-1 without all the new innovation would
probably have cost half as much again." He sees SMART-1's tests as essential
to a number of future ESA missions, including Bepi-Colombo, which will study
Mercury, and Solar Orbiter, which will dive closer to the sun than any
Received on Wed 20 Aug 2003 01:14:46 PM PDT