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SMART-1 is the first mission in ESA’s Small Missions for Advanced Research in Technology programme, hence the SMART acronym. These are missions designed to test key technologies, in preparation for their later use on major scientific missions.

The purpose of SMART-1 is to test a number of key technologies while performing an unprecedented scientific study of the Moon. 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 is the first European mission to the Moon. Despite a concerted effort by the Americans during the 1960s and early 1970s, which culminated in six successful manned landings, and the more recent Clementine and Lunar Prospector missions, the Moon remains a place of mystery and scientific intrigue.

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