UK MoonLITE mission to cost $205 million

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This story is sourced from Flight International
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The UK's proposed Moon Lightweight Interior and Telecom Experiment (MoonLITE) mission is to cost up to £100 million ($205 million), with participation by NASA and other partners.

MoonLITE is an 846kg (1,860lb) orbiter that would fire penetrators into the lunar surface and test navigation and communication technologies. The concept was developed by the Surrey Satellite Technology company and its owner, the University of Surrey, and funded by the UK government's Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) forerunner, the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council.

The mission is being examined by a joint British National Space Centre, NASA exploration collaboration study that is to report before the end of the year, a month later than planned.

"We want to lower the cost of [scientific] access to the Moon and if we don't do MoonLITE for £100 million we would have failed," said STFC chief executive Keith Mason, speaking at the 3rd Rutherford Appleton Laboratory space conference on 6 December. He added that the appeal of MoonLITE was its combination of science and the technology development for wider lunar exploration.

The UK hardware for the mission was to have been funded out of a proposed national space technology programme that could have had a budget of up to £25 million, but Mason admitted that that programme would now not be funded until the medium to longer term. NASA collaboration is to be part of the new 2007-2010 UK space strategy, the publication of which has been delayed to February 2008.

This delay is due to the UK government's comprehensive spending review (CSR), which sets out three-year funding cycles, not yet finalising exactly what the space funding is to be spent on. The completion of the wider CSR process was supposed to be earlier this year and this may be another factor in the publications delay.

Sir Martin Sweeting, SSTL chairman, told Flight on 6 December that he expects the sale of a majority stake in the company to be completed by quarter three next year. He declined to comment on whether that share would be sold to California based-Space Exploration Technologies, which already has a 10% stake in the UK manufacturer.