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SMART-1 Mission to Earth's Moon

Mission Type: Orbiter
Launch Vehicle: Ariane-5
Launch Site: Europe's Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana
Spacecraft Mass: 367 kg in total, including 19 kg of payload.
Spacecraft Instruments:
1) Electric Propulsion Diagnostic Package
2) Spacecraft Potential, Electron and Dust Experiment
3) X/Ka-band Telemetry and Telecommand Experiment
4) Radio Science Investigation
5) Laser Link Experiment
6) On-board Autonomous Navigation
7) Asteroid-Moon Micro-Imager Experiment
8) Infrared Instrument
9) ompact Imaging X-ray Spectrometer
10) X-ray Solar Monitor
Spacecraft Dimensions: 1 x 1 x 1 m (excluding solar panels). With solar panels deployed, SMART-1 measures about 14 m across.
Spacecraft Power: Solar panels
Total Cost: SMART-1's cost is about 110 million Euros. This includes the launch, the spacecraft, the payload and the flight operations.
European Space Agency SMART-1 Launch Fact Sheet

SMART-1 was the first mission in ESA's Small Missions for Advanced Research in Technology (SMART) program. These missions test key technologies for their later use on major scientific missions. SMART-1 was a lunar mission to test several key technologies.

One of its principal tests is solar-electric propulsion. This is a form of continuous low-thrust engine that uses electricity derived from solar panels to produce a beam of charged particles. This beam can be expelled from the spacecraft, so pushing it forward. Such engines are commonly called ion engines. SMART-1 was the second spacecraft to use ion propulsion.

SMART-1 also:

  • tested a navigation system that, in the future, will allow spacecraft to autonomously navigate through the Solar System;
  • tested a new way to communicate with Earth using a laser beam and test very high frequency transmissions instead of traditional radio frequencies,

While at the Moon, SMART-1's science instruments:

  • investigated the theory that the Moon formed out of the debris of a massive collision between a Mars-sized object and Earth, over 4000 million years ago;
  • studied processes of rocky planet formation, volcanism, tectonics and geochemistry;
  • chronicled the asteroid and comet bombardment of the Earth-Moon system by studying the preserved craters of the Moon;
  • searched for signs of water ice in craters near the Moon's poles.

SMART-1's voyage to the Moon was neither quick nor direct. After launch, SMART-1 went into an elliptical orbit around the Earth, typically used by telecommunications satellites. In this orbit the spacecraft fired its ion engine, gradually expanding its elliptical orbit and spiraling out in direction of the Moon's orbital plane. Month after month, this brought it closer to the Moon, which orbits at between 350,000 and 400,000 kilometers from Earth. As SMART-1 neared the Moon, it began to use the gravity of the Moon to nudge it into a position where it was eventually captured by the Moon's gravitational field in mid November 2004.

This complicated and slow journey was necessary because ion engines do not provide the instant power that chemical rockets do. However, because they are more efficient and require little fuel, ion engines are more flexible and allow space probes to reach places where chemical rockets would not be able to go.

After being captured by the Moon, SMART-1 looped over the north and south poles, in an elliptical orbit whose height ranged from 300 to 3,000 kilometers. After almost 16 months in orbit, SMART-1 was deliberately crashed into the Moon.

Key Dates
27 Sep 2003:  Launch (23:14 UTC)
15 Nov 2004:  Lunar Orbit Insertion
Status: Successful
Fast Facts
SMART-1 Facts SMART-1 stands for Small Missions for Advanced Research and Technology.

SMART-1's elliptical - egg-shaped - orbit will range from 10,000 to 300 km (6,200 to 190 miles) above the lunar surface.

Nine European countries and the United States are contributing to the SMART-1 mission.

SMART-1 was a secondary payload aboard an Ariane-5 launched from Europe's Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana.

It was Europe's first mission to the Moon.

The mission was the second to use ion propulsion as a primary propulsion system. The first was NASA's Deep Space 1 probe launched in October 1998.
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Last Updated: 1 Dec 2010