Mission to the moon

The MoonLITE development programme has completed its first three test firings of small missile-like probes at MoD Pendine, using the long test track facility operated and managed by Qinetiq.

The probes, called penetrators, are being developed for the proposed UK-led mission to the moon. They travelled at 700mph along 300m of the 1,500m test track before hitting a sand target, constructed to replicate the surface of the moon and generating a g-force of 10,000g.

In the mission the penetrators will be deployed at high-speed by an orbiting spacecraft and will embed instruments into the lunar surface on impact. Once deployed, the scientific instruments will send measurements back to Earth, revealing the internal structure of the moon.

As part of a consortium led by the UCL Mullard Space Science Laboratory, Qinetiq is ‘de-risking’ the mission and is responsible for supplying the impact resistant bodies for the penetrators, batteries and other electronic systems.

Qinetiq’s chief operating officer for EMEA Clive Richardson said: ‘The successful trials took place at our long test track at Pendine which is more commonly used to prove new weapons systems and protection measures for British forces deployed on operations.’

He added: ‘By taking innovative capabilities initially developed for defence and translating them for MoonLITE, Qinetiq is playing a key role on a ground-breaking mission that is set to reveal many secrets about unexplored areas of the moon.’

The three penetrators tested at Pendine contained accelerometers, a data acquisition system, a power system and a variety of sensors including a drill mechanism, seismometer and mass spectrometer. The accelerometers recorded data throughout the trial and initial examinations showed that all other sensors survived the impact.

UCL’s Mullard Space Science Laboratory director Professor Alan Smith said: ‘These were our first trials and they have been enormously successful with all aspects of the electronics functioning correctly during and after the impact.’

If the development programme continues to make good progress, the MoonLITE mission could be launched as early as 2013.