Europe's first lunar adventure
The European Space Agency's Science Programme encompasses, in addition to the ambitious 'Cornerstone' and medium-sized missions, recently dubbed 'flexi-missions', small relatively low-cost missions. These have been given the generic name SMART - 'Small Missions for Advanced Research in Technology'. Their purpose is to test new technologies that will eventually be used on bigger projects.
It is the first time that Europe has sent a spacecraft to the Moon. In addition to the use of solar electric primary propulsion to reach Earth's natural satellite, the spacecraft carries out a complete programme of scientific observations in lunar orbit.
SMART-1 was launched succesfully as an Ariane-5 auxiliary payload on 27 September 2003 and entered lunar orbit on 15 November 2004. The planetary objective selected for the SMART-1 mission was to orbit the Moon for a nominal period of 6 months, with a possible extension of one year.
On 10 February 2005 the ESA Science Programme Committee endorsed unanimously the proposed one-year extension of SMART-1, pushing back the mission end date from August 2005 to August 2006.
Implementation of the mission extension was done in two periods of 6 months that corresponded to different orbital parameters and illumination conditions. During the first period, the southern survey study was completed and dedicated pointings were made for multi-angle, stereo, and polar illumination studies.
In the second period, high-resolution coverage of the Moon on the equator and part of the northern hemisphere took place due to the favourable illumination conditions. High resolution follow up observations of specific targets were also made, as well as observations relevant for the preparation of future international lunar exploration missions (Lunar-A, Selene, Chandrayaan-1, Chang'E, LRO, Moonrise).
In the period 19 June to 2 July 2006, orbit manoeuvres were carried out to extend the mission lifetime by 2 weeks with the mission end now scheduled for 3 September 2006. This was based on the science requirements to allow the impact of the spacecraft on the Moon to be observable from Earth under favourable conditions.