Discovery of SMART-1 impact site thanks to an eagle-eyed researcher and high resolution Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter images.
Credit: P Stooke/B Foing et al 2017/ NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University


In the lost and now found category of Moon probes add the European Space Agency’s first lunar mission, SMART-1 to the list.

Thanks to the sharp-eyed Phil Stooke, of Western University, Ontario, using high-resolution images from NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO), the spacecraft’s impact site has been discovered.

The spacecraft was sent into a controlled impact with the lunar surface 11 years ago.

European Space Agency’s SMART-1 lunar orbiter.
Credit: ESA

Hard, grazing, bouncing landing

Explains Bernard Foing, ESA SMART-1 Project Scientist: “SMART-1 had a hard, grazing and bouncing landing at two kilometers per second on the surface of the Moon. There were no other spacecraft in orbit at the time to give a close-up view of the impact, and finding the precise location became a ‘cold case’ for more than 10 years.”

The next steps will be to send a robotic investigator, Foing adds, “to examine the remains of the SMART-1 spacecraft body and ‘wings’ of the solar arrays.”

Another view of SMART-1 crash site, as spotted within high resolution Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter images.
Credit: P Stooke/B Foing et al 2017/ NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University

Ricochet rocketry

Images from LRO show white ejecta, over 20 feet (seven meters) across, from the first contact.

A north-south channel has then been carved out by the SMART-1 spacecraft body, before its bouncing ricochet.

“We can make out three faint but distinct ejecta streams from the impact, about 40 meters long and separated by 20-degree angles,” Foing reports in a paper delivered this week at the European Planetary Science Congress (EPSC) 2017 in Riga.

The crash scene of SMART-1 is 34.262° south and 46.193° west, consistent with the coordinates of impact calculated initially, according to a EPSC press statement.

So long, goodbye trajectory of ESA’s SMART-1 spacecraft that ended with impact on the lunar surface.
Credit: ESA – C.Carreau, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO

Tested new technology

SMART stands for Small Missions for Advanced Research in Technology.

SMART-1 is the first of ESA’s Small Missions for Advanced Research in Technology. It traveled to the Moon using solar-electric propulsion and carrying a battery of miniaturized instruments.

As well as testing new technology, SMART-1 did the first comprehensive inventory of key chemical elements in the lunar surface. It also investigated the theory that the Moon was formed following the violent collision of a smaller planet with Earth, four and a half thousand million years ago.

The operational mission of the SMART-1 orbiter ended on September 3, 2006 when the craft ended its journey in Lacus Excellentiae – the “Lake of Excellence” plain.


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