NASA has decided to place a simple, economical spacecraft in orbit around the moon in July, 1997. The entire cost, including launch vehicle (a Lockheed LLV2) should run less than $73 million in today's dollars. There will be four experiments, designed to complement the mapping done by Clementine. Prospector should provide unprecedented detail the chemical composition and the magnetic and gravity fields of Luna. The mission should expand knowledge of lunar resources, the utilization of which is now widely seen as the key to establishing a human presence on the Moon (AW&ST July 18, 1994, p60).
The experiments are:
The spacecraft will mass 233kg fully fueled; the LLV2 can boost up to 450kg into lunar orbit. The spacecraft will have no onboard computer. It will circle the moon every 118 min and gather data for one year.
Alan Binder and an associate, Preston Carter, formed Lunar Exploration, Inc., six years ago and began pushing the project as a commercial venture to demonstrate what could be done on a low-cost planetary mission. The project died when the SEI Mars initiative died, but Lockheed hired Binder and kept the project alive.
Japan is planning a lunar mission to emplace seismic penetrators. ESA and China are considering Lunar missions.