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Cash shortage freezes UK Moon mission

The UK's Moon Lightweight Interior and Telecom Experiment mission that was to fire penetrators into the lunar surface has been put on hold due to a lack of finances.

MoonLite was to be a joint mission between the UK and NASA to send a robotic spacecraft to the Moon in 2014 and its nine-month Phase A study was to be awarded during the second quarter of this year.

But the contract, expected to be worth around £1 million ($1.6 million), was never awarded and industry says it has been delayed to April 2010.

The UK government's civil space activity co-ordinator, the British National Space Centre, says: "The [decision for a] release of funds has been deferred by [BNSC member organisation Science and Technology Facilities Council] for a year to take account of [its] competing shorter-term priorities as determined by its governing council and advisory structure."

The space centre added that an agreement between itself and the European Space Agency has led to an "invitation to tender" being released by ESA for penetrator technology work.

While MoonLite's Phase A contract could be awarded next April, coinciding with the UK government's new financial year, the country's next general election must occur by June making an award before then unlikely.

In December 2008 MoonLite's manager David Parker said that after the Phase A study, the organisation would bid for its full funding in 2010.

This assumed a Labour government would be starting work on its next three-year spending review, but opinion polls indicate that Labour will lose the election.

MoonLite emerged from a 2008 joint working group with NASA that followed a bilateral 2007 statement of intent for co-operation.

The future of MoonLite may also be affected by an ongoing consultation on the funding and management of the UK's civil space activity. The 12-week consultation ends in early October and it could lead to changes to the British National Space Centre.

Operating in parallel to this consultation but reporting by January 2010 is the UK government's innovation and growth team for space. Its report will set out a 20-year vision for the UK space industry.

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