London, June 10 : High speed 'missiles' that could one day be used to breach the surface of the moon to study its internal structure, have passed their first test, accelerating to 1100 km per hour before striking their target.
According to a report in New Scientist, the test suggested that the missiles' instruments would survive the violent impact.
The probes, part of a proposed UK-NASA collaboration called MoonLITE, could launch as early as 2013. Each would carry a seismometer on board.
Together, the network of sensors could use the energy of lunar quakes to map the Moon's interior and help reveal whether the Moon has an iron core, which could shed light on how it formed.
A drill and instruments to test for water and other chemicals will also be on board.
Each 'penetrator' may hit the Moon's surface at a speed of more than 1100 kilometers per hour, rapidly coming to a halt as much as 3 meters into lunar dust.
In recent tests, the penetrators were driven by a rocket-powered train into a pile of sand at the speed they would likely hit the Moon. The collision decelerated the load by 10,000 times the strength of gravity.
According to project lead Alan Smith of University College London's Mullard Space Science Laboratory in Surrey, UK, the probe's scientific instruments seemed to survive the heavy jolt.
To enable the penetrators' scientific instruments to survive the impact, Smith and colleagues embedded the probes' electrical components in a clear block of epoxy and bolted down everything else.
Silicon microelectronics were used in some instruments to make the probe lighter and more rugged.
The probes might be able to push metres down into the lunar surface before stopping. But exactly how far is unclear.
"The Moon regolith is not like sand. It's more like compressed talcum powder," said Smith. "It does make it harder to penetrate," he added.
If all goes well, the penetrators might be the first to successfully crash into an extraterrestrial object and survive to carry on measurements.