Space systems company Spacedev has been awarded a contract to develop a prototype lunar lander vehicle for the International Lunar Observatory Association (ILOA).

The ILOA is a private spacecraft venture that would conduct optical and radio astronomy from the Moon's surface on a commercial basis as well as provide photography, cislunar communications and internet hosting.

Since 2003 Spacedev has performed four design and feasibility studies addressing various aspects of ILOA. The current lander design uses hybrid rocket motors for its descent and landing system, and the prototype will demonstrate other mission-critical technologies.

"This is a landmark phase for the ILOA, as we carry the project beyond paper studies and into hardware development," says Spacedev chief executive and chairman Mark Sirangelo.

Spacedev is also developing internally an orbital crew and cargo transport vehicle based on the NASA Langley Research Center-designed HL-20, which launches vertically and lands on a runway. In June the company signed an unfunded space act agreement with NASA to facilitate its development.

The US agency will provide information about its commercial demand for International Space Station crew and cargo services and the station's rendezvous and docking requirements. NASA and Spacedev will also have technical exchange meetings about the company's HL-20-like vehicle.

Spacedev founder Jim Benson, now chairman and president of space tourism company Benson Space, has announced that following a five-month study the company's suborbital Dream Chaser spaceship would not be based on the HL-20 but on an amalgam of the NASA and Air Force X-2, X-15 and T-38 vehicles.Dart shaped with many large windows, a wing and vertical fin, it will launch vertically using hybrid rockets and glide to a runway after achieving an altitude of at least 104km (65 miles). Benson is aiming for a 2009 in-service date.

Source: Flight International