Something Else Europe Is Doing Right

Although I usually have words of criticism for Europe, the European Space Agency’s new SMART-1 probe is a potentially groundbreaking advance in deep space propulsion. The probe is powered by an engine that runs on solar power and produces a stream of charged particles to generate thrust. The SMART-1 probe weights only a few hundred kilograms and cost only 110 million Euros ($126 million) – which is only a fraction of the cost of most lunar missions.

SMART-1 will use its engine to slowly accelerate towards the moon where will begin a six-month mission looking for water and studying the moon’s origins.

With China ready to begin a manned space program, the ESA developing innovative new space technologies, NASA is too busy sending astronauts into low earth orbit and occasionally killing them to do much else. The US space program needs a reboot towards cheaper and more efficient launch technologies before the US falls further behind in space research.

UPDATE: Chet reminds me that NASA’s Deep Space One probe was in fact the first spacecraft to use an ion engine for propulsion. Deep Space One was launched in 1998 and managed to snap rare images of Comet Borrelly in 2001.

6 thoughts on “Something Else Europe Is Doing Right

  1. NASA invented ion drives for deep space probes. We launched one called “Deep Space One” in 1998. If anybody’s “behind” on space research it would appear to be Europe, who is just cathcing up to technologies we’ve had for years.

  2. The European space program has never put up a spacecraft that returned into the atmosphere and survived. I don’t know what you think you’re talking about, Frankish. The European space program doesn’t put any people up, so they have no reason to bring anything back.

    So if you’re going to claim that the European space progam has a better track record on spacecraft reentry, it’s only because they’ve never put up any spacecraft that needed to reenter.

    Jay, I totally agree with your post, though. The Shuttle is a dead-end. We’re using way too much money to support it. Anything that needs to go into LEO can do so on an unmanned, commercial rocket. It’s time to put the money towards getting to Mars, or putting a base at the earth-moon LaGrange point.

  3. oh boy oh boy… I cannot wait for you to find out what happened in Italy this morning (at about 3am their time). You will know when you turn on cnn…


  4. Oh, what fun lies ahead of us… Now (some hours later – get your butts out of bed!) they are beginning to assign the blame to… I am NOT gonna say THAT now. But you may have guessed already.


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