26 September 2005
ESA’s SMART-1 mission in orbit around the Moon has had its scientific lifetime extended by ingenious use of its solar-electric propulsion system (or ‘ion engine’).
In February this year, the SMART-1 mission was granted financial support to extend the mission by one year, starting at the end of July 2005. However, whether SMART-1 could actually survive that length of time all depended on the propulsion system, the ion engine, and the small amount of xenon fuel left on board.
Without using the remaining fuel and letting the orbit decay naturally, SMART-1 would have ended its mission sometime before May 2006. Engineers and flight controllers at ESA’s European Space Operations Centre (ESOC) in Darmstadt, Germany, were aware that the ion engine could not use all the fuel left on board. They had to keep two kilograms of fuel to maintain sufficient gaseous pressure inside the tank to be able to control the engine thrust.
However, ESA and industry worked together to find a way to stretch the technology of SMART-1’s engine to set a new record. New simulations and analysis allowed the SMART-1 flight control team to successfully operate the engine until the almost the last drop of fuel was consumed and an orbit with one-year lifetime was reached.
for Info, Smart factsheet
and what is an Ion thruster
it is a new technology to go to the Speed of light, … in some years or … i hope