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Astronomy

Moon penetrator passes first tests

The first three test firings of small missile-like probes that will allow scientific measurements to be taken from the far side of the Moon have been successfully completed in South Waleslast month using a long test track facility operated and managed by QinetiQ.

The probes, called penetrators, traveled at 700 miles per hour along 300 meters of the 1500-meter test track before hitting a sand target that had been constructed to replicate the surface of the moon. The impact generated a g-force of 10,000g -- more than a thousand times stronger than a human could survive.

The penetrators are being developed for the proposed UK-led MoonLITE mission to the Moon. They will be deployed at high speed by an orbiting spacecraft and embed instruments into the lunar surface on impact. Once deployed, the scientific instruments will send measurements back to the Earth, revealing the internal structure of the Moon. Penetrators could also be used for studying the icy moons of Jupiter and Saturn, and other objects in the solar system.

Professor Alan Smith, Director of the Mullard Space Science Laboratory at University College London 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."

Full press release from QinetiQ