Europe’s three year moon mission has to come to an end, as SMART-1 completed its final objective by crashing into the lunar surface.
The European Space Agency (ESA) probe – which was launched on an Ariane 5 launch vehicle – was on its collision course, for an impact which was successful at 1:42:22am EDT (06:42:22 UK time) Sunday. Impact ocurred at 46.2 degrees West, 34.4 degrees South.
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The probe will impact the lunar surface at a speed of about 7,200km/h (4,500mph), sending huge plums of dust, ejected into lunar orbit, which will be visible from Earth through telescopes and even binoculars.
Scientists will study the debris in order to help confirm the moon was formed from a collision between the Earth and another heavenly object.
‘Just because the astronauts went to the Moon doesn’t mean they found out everything there is to find out,’ said Professor David Southwood, the head of science at the ESA.
This is Europe’s first mission to the moon, but ESA have been quick to point at the mission’s costs. At only $100m – including launch costs – the mission has achieved multiple mission objectives.
The tiny spacecraft’s Ion propulsion system performed as planned, although the trip to the moon took a lot longer than normal, taking 15 months to arrive into lunar orbit. Ion engines will now be fitted to the majority of Europe’s new probes, including the BepiColumbo mission to Mercury.
Once SMART-1 arrived at the moon, the probe produced detailed maps of the moon’s chemical make-up, during an 18 month mission in lunar orbit. It has also taken detailed maps of the surface, which will aid future manned missions to the moon.
‘This is the first of a fleet of orbiters that will head to the moon,’ said Dr Bernard Foing of ESA. ‘The next step will be polar landers, that could be part of an international robotic village, before preparing for a human outpost and base.’