A new startup company, Golden Spike, promises a manned, round-trip voyage to the lunar surface by 2020.

The company, which includes several high-profile former NASA personnel, aims to fly tourists or scientists to the moon for $1.5 billion.

While President and CEO Alan Stern, a former top science official at NASA, says the flights can be made using existing hardware, no selections have been announced, and Stern denies having decided upon a launch vehicle - one of the crucial drivers of cost.

Such an endeavour would require massive up-front investment, but Stern says there are no "billion-dollar" investors who have founded a number of space companies in recent years, with varying success. Though a number of new and ambitious companies are aiming to achieve goals in outer space - including asteroid and lunar mining, short orbital tours and long-term space stations - none have yet demonstrated their capabilities.

Stern says that the company has spoken with several national-level space agencies, which express interest in the idea.

While the technology for lunar visits has existed since the 1960s, the willingness - and more often, the money - has not. Stern points to a potential $20 billion industry.

Source: Flight International