Electric propulsion makes its debut in space

Nov. 20, 2003
The European space agency recently launched a concept spacecraft, Small Missions for Advanced Research and Technology (Smart 1), that uses electric propulsion. The thruster and propulsion system, designed and manufactured by Snecma Moteurs, a French company, is said to be the first full-scale application in Europe to use solar-electric propulsion (SEP). It lets the probe reach the moon in 15 to 17 months using a minimum of xenon fuel.

The European space agency recently launched a concept spacecraft, Small Missions for Advanced Research and Technology (Smart 1), that uses electric propulsion. The thruster and propulsion system, designed and manufactured by Snecma Moteurs, a French company, is said to be the first full-scale application in Europe to use solar-electric propulsion (SEP). It lets the probe reach the moon in 15 to 17 months using a minimum of xenon fuel.

An ultracompact electronic camera on the probe, developed by CSEM, the Swiss Center for Electronics and Microtechnology, will take precise photos of the moon's surface to study its morphology, topography, and texture. The camera, called the Asteroid-Moon Micro-Imager Experiment (AMIE), will compress these images and record them on board for transmission to Earth. AMIE weighs 1 lb, including optics and electronics, thanks to ultrathin printed circuits arranged in vertical sandwich layers.

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