X-ray vision

UK scientists and engineers at the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) have launched a sophisticated X-ray camera aboard the Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft.

The C1XS camera was designed and built at the STFC Space Science and Technology Department at Rutherford Appleton Laboratory and forms part of the UK’s first collaborative space project with India.

The design uses new technology that makes it compact, lightweight and able to measure minerals such as magnesium, aluminium and silicon on the lunar surface. It works by observing X-rays from the sun that have been absorbed by atoms in the lunar soil and remitted to reveal the surface mineral composition.

In addition to identifying the moon’s chemical resources, the data is hoped to help scientists gain a greater understanding of its origin and evolution.

The spectrometer builds on a successful technology demonstration called D-CIXS, which was launched aboard the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Smart-1 mission to the moon. C1XS has an additional detector system to measure these X-rays called the X-ray Solar Monitor (XSM) provided by the University of Helsinki Observatory in Finland.

Prof Manuel Grande, C1XS principal investigator at Aberystwyth University, said: ‘In the UK we are rapidly becoming the world’s leading maker of planetary X-ray instruments. C1XS will cement this position, and paves the way for UK leadership of similar instruments on Mercury and elsewhere in the solar system.’