SMART-1 is the first European spacecraft to orbit the Moon and the first European probe to use an ion engine as its main propulsion system. SMART stands for Small Missions for Advanced Research in Technology.

Smart-1 Spacecraft Picture

SMART-1 is the first of ESA’s (European Space Agency) Small Missions for Advanced Research in Technology and has used many innovative space techniques. It was designed as a technology demonstrator mission to prepare for future interplanetary missions to Mercury and maybe Mars.

The objectives of Smart-1 are to:

  1. Validate a solar-powered ion engine as the main propulsion system and in turn demonstrate ion propulsion for space exploration.
  2. Test miniaturised spacecraft equipment and instruments.
  3. Test a navigation system which in the long term will allow spacecraft to autonomously navigate through the solar system.
  4. Test a space communication technique whereby SMART-1 will establish a link with the Earth using a laser beam.
  5. Make the first comprehensive inventory of key chemical elements in the lunar surface.
  6. Look for water (in the form of ice) on the Moon.


Launch Mass: 366.5kg
On-orbit Dry Mass: 305 kg
Dimensions: 1 cubic metre
Instruments Total Mass: 19 kg
Spacecraft Cost: 110-million euro (US$85-million)

The ion propulsion uses xenon as a propellant. It uses a Hall effect thruster.

Mission Operations Centre is based at ESOC, Darmstadt, Germany. Science and Technology Operations Co-ordination is located at ESTEC, Noordwijk, The Netherlands. Ground stations in ESA’s deep space network around the world are also used.


Electric Propulsion Diagnostic Package (EPDP) (Italy): To monitor the working of the propulsion system and its effects on the spacecraft.

D-CIXS (Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, United Kingdom): To investigate the composition of the Moon and to create the first global map of the Moon in X-rays.

XSM (University of Helsinki Observatory, Finland): To calibrate the D-CIXS data and study solar X-ray emission.

AMIE (CSEM, Switzerland): To test a miniaturised camera and take colour images of the Moon surface. Photographs can be used for potential landing sites for future robotic or human missions.

SPEDE (Finland): Together with EPSP used to study the space plasma environment.

Ka/X-band TTC (Telemetry and Telecommand) Experiment (KaTE) (Astrium GmbH, Germany): To test more efficient communication techniques with Earth.

RSIS (Italy): Use the KaTE and AMIE instruments to investigate the way the Moon wobbles.

On-Board Autonomous Navigation (OBAN) (ESA): Software to allow the spaceprobe to guide itself to the Moon, designed to minimize the amount of ground intervention required for the mission.

SIR (Institute für Aeronomie, Germany): To search for ice and make a mineralogical mapping of the Moon

Mission History


Smart-1 was launched on 27 September 2003 as a piggy back payload on an Ariane 5 rocket which contained communication satellites. It was designed for a nominal six-month mission. Smart-1 spacecraft used its solar powered ion propulsion system to spiral its way to the Moon. It has validated a solar-powered ion engine as the main propulsion system.

November 2004:

On November 11th, after 322 loops around the Earth, the spacecraft crossed the weak gravitational boundary at the L1 Lagrangian point between Earth and the Moon.  Smart-1 was then captured by the lunar gravity and entered initial lunar orbit on 15 November 2004.

Originally mission planners expected the spacecraft to reach lunar orbit by March 2005.

January 2005:

Smart 1 reached its final orbit around the moon.

15 February 2005:

Smart-1 mission was extended by one year to August 2006. The original mission was going to last six months and end in August 2005.

August 2006: The end of the Smart-1 mission.

Did you know?

* Smart-1 spacecraft was the second spacecraft to use ion propulsion as the main propulsion system. NASA’s Deep Space 1 probe was the first mission to use ion propulsion as its primary propulsion system. Deep Space 1  was launched in October 1998

* Future ESA missions will use ion propulsion technolgy. Missions include: BepiColumbo probe to Mercury (in 2011) and the Solar Orbiter, which will swoop even closer to the Sun for close-up views.

* By using ion propulsion system, Smart-1 spacecraft was cheaper mission compared to using conventional chemical rocket propulsion. Smart-1 took many spiralling orbits (slow-and-steady) around the Earth to build up enough speed to reach the Moon. Its epic 80-million-kilometre journey has took 13 months, compared with the four days taken to cover 400,000 kilometres by Apollo 11 during the first Moon landing mission.

Related Books

Europe’s Space Programme: To Ariane and Beyond by Brian Harvey

Lunar Exploration: Human Pioneers and Robotic Surveyors  by Paolo Ulivi, David M Harland

The Moon Seems to Change (Let’s-Read-and-Find-Out Science 2) by Franklyn M. Branley (For Ages 4-8)

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