Tim Furniss/LONDON

SpaceDev, a Colorado-based company that is putting together a private mission to explore and claim rights to an asteroid - possibly for mining purposes - is to acquire the UK's Space Innovations (SIL).

The deal will provide SpaceDev with "additional strategic capabilities" to bring it "another step closer" to its commercial goal, says company chairman Jim Benson.

Newbury-based SIL is a small company offering specialist design and manufacture of satellite subsystems, including components for the Motorola Iridium satellite network. It will become a wholly owned subsidiary of SpaceDev.

Benson says he is "especially interested" in SIL's deep space X-band transceiver for his company's planned Near Earth Asteroid Prospector (NEAP) mission. He adds that SpaceDev now has all the necessary resources to achieve its missions goals "except the launch vehicle capability".

Space Dev will sell opportunities to companies and agencies to fly instruments on the NEAP mission and will sell science data acquired by its own instruments.

NASA will consider the NEAP or another SpaceDev mission for funding as part of the Discovery programme for scientists wishing to fly instruments on SpaceDev craft. The company will charge $15 million, says Benson.

Gathering and selling science data could represent a market worth $1 billion a year, he adds. The NEAP is likely to be targeted at the asteroid Nereus, which in early 2002 will fly to within 4.8 million kilometres of the earth.

The NEAP will explore the carbonaceous asteroid with instruments such as a neutron spectrometer to search for water. SpaceDev says the 1km-diameter asteroid could contain resources worth more than $1,000 billion.

If this is indicated by the results from the NEAP, the company will attempt to fly a mission to a similar asteroid to mine it and bring back samples.

Source: Flight International