SpaceDev, the commercial space exploration and development company, has been selected by the Space Sciences Laboratory at the University of California, Berkeley to design, build and operate a micro-spacecraft.

The vehicle will conduct a one-year astronomy mission in low earth orbit.

The spacecraft, the Cosmic Hot Interstellar Plasma Spectrometer (CHIPSat), is the first mission in NASA's low-cost University-class Explorer (UNEX) series. The 85kg (190lb) micro-spacecraft, carrying a single science instrument, will be launched in 2002.

The contract, which will be worth $5 million over two and a half years, is a "very important and gratifying milestone in SpaceDev's growth", says Jim Benson, the founder and chairman of the California-based company.

During its development, SpaceDev acquired Integrated Space Systems, Space Innovations and Amroc. It assembled a team to capitalise on a niche market of commercial micro-spacecraft solutions for agencies, corporations and institutions "requiring cost effective alternatives to traditionally high cost space missions".

Two other spacecraft are being developed by SpaceDev; a small satellite for Australia called FedSat and the proprietary Near Earth Asteroid Prospector. The latter is a 200kg craft that will ride piggyback on an Ariane 5, carrying instruments provided by commercial customers.

Source: Flight International