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Europe's Moon probe is safely slotted in lunar orbit
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  • PARIS (AFP) Nov 16, 2004
    Europe's first mission to the Moon, the unmanned probe SMART-1, has been safely placed in orbit around the Moon, the European Space Agency (ESA) announced on Tuesday.

    The probe was captured by the Moon's gravity on Monday, ESA's director of science, David Southwood, said in a teleconference from mission control in Darmstadt, western Germany.

    In the coming weeks, SMART-1 will further adjust to its trajectory so that it spirals closer to the lunar surface, eventually achieving an egg-shaped orbit around the poles that will vary from 300 kilometers (187 miles) at its closest to 3,000 kms (1,870 miles) at its farthest.

    The 370-kilo (814-pound) probe, launched in September 2003, is powered by an ion engine, which converts solar power into electricity that then charges atoms of the heavy gas xenon. These charged atoms, known as ions, are then disgorged from the back of the probe to give it thrust.

    SMART-1 also has a payload of remote sensors, designed mainly to check out hopes that deep craters near the Moon's surface may harbour water ice, a discovery that would be a huge boost for setting up a human settlement.

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