Robotic missions to the Moon and Venus at one-fifth to one-tenth of the cost of past missions are being proposed by the UK's Surrey Satellite Technology (SSTL).
The company believes it can offer missions costing around £20 million ($36 million), compared with the usual price tag of hundreds of millions.
"We're looking at [NASA's Project Constellation] and what it wants," says Dr Adam Baker, a senior propulsion engineer at SSTL. A low-cost mission could involve a 500kg (225lb) spacecraft, with almost 400kg of that being the rocket motor for escaping Earth orbit and the remaining 100kg the probe itself. It would be launched as a secondary payload aboard a Russian Proton M/Breeze M, which has a 5.5t to geostationary transfer orbit capability. The launch would cost around £10 million and the probe a further £10 million, says Baker.
The probe would be an orbiter only, without any lander, and could potentially carry instruments such as a camera, a neutron spectrometer for finding water, an infrared spectrometer for prospecting minerals and a magnetometer for detecting magnetic fields.
Source: Flight International