SpaceDev, which is promoting the privately funded Near Earth Asteroid Prospector (NEAP) mission, hopes to obtain partial funding indirectly from NASA as a result of the space agency's next announcement of opportunities to participate in Discovery missions (Flight International, 29 October-4 November, 1997).

In March, NASA will invite proposals from scientists, not only for specific mission spacecraft, but also for the purchase of data from instruments on a non-NASA commercial spacecraft, such as the NEAP, or for flights of instruments on the mission. The aim of Discovery mission is to offer "faster, cheaper, better" methods of exploring space.

SpaceDev - which is flying three of its own instruments on the NEAP - is offering the international space community seven opportunities to fly experiments on the spacecraft, at a cost of $10-$12 million per experiment.

In addition to SpaceDev's three instruments - a multi-band camera, alpha X-ray proton spectrometer and neutron spectrometer - there are opportunities to fly three landing canisters, as well as four major science instruments.

The company has so far received 18 serious enquiries, says SpaceDev chairman Jim Benson, who has taken the company public by acquiring the Pegasus Development Group of Denver, Colorado. He says that he is "-only about $7 million short of being fully funded for NEAP".

Benson, who was at Cape Canaveral for the Lunar Prospector launch on 6 January aboard an Athena 2 booster which is being considered as a candidate to launch the NEAP, says that even NASA centres such as the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California have funds to develop instruments, but cannot afford a launch.

Originally, the plan was for the NEAP to fly low-cost instruments itself and sell the data, "-now we are finding more people who want to fly instruments themselves", Benson says. "We offer up to four times the science to the dollar [than a NASA craft]," he adds.

SpaceDev, which is acquiring Integrated Space Systems of San Diego, and its programme partner, the University of San Diego, is looking beyond the $50 million NEAP mission. This could be flown in 1999-2000 to an asteroid sample-return mission and a Mars Data Relay satellite to "provide data-return services for the proposed international armada of Mars-bound spacecraft over the next decade," Benson says.

Source: Flight International