Private, Commercial, and Student-Oriented Low-Cost Deep-Space Missions: A Global Survey of Activity


Primary mission objectives for most deepspace missions to date have emphasized acquiring scientific data and expanding our understanding of the solar system; some contemporary missions target advanced technology demonstration with science as a secondary objective. All missions so far have been sponsored by one or more government agencies, organizations or consortia.

Now a new class of deep-space missions is emerging: those motivated and sponsored by private, commercial and student-oriented interests and organizations. Several such missions — the first to actually be executed — are likely to occur in the 2000-2005 period. Underlying motivations for these unconventional ventures are summarized.

For context, this survey starts with similar activities during 1970-95. Lunar Prospector is perhaps the most visible success story here: it was initially a privately financed venture before being selected as a NASA Discovery mission. Why few of these early efforts succeeded in meeting their objectives — and why some did — is explored.

Next, a worldwide snapshot of current activity in this arena is provided, highlighting the most visible and credible developments, most of which are in the U.S. and Europe. Principal mission attributes, team composition and unconventional features are summarized for each. All are still in the conceptual or preliminary design phase, but least one (NEAP is expected to move into development and implementation this year.

Implications of this emerging trend to the conventional space-science mission community are addressed. Included here are the continued need for science instruments and scientific talent, the prospect of expanding the array of space technologies and infrastructure, new teaming relationships and funding mechanisms, and various cost and risk issues.

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Ridenoure, R., and Kevin Polk. 1998 “Private, Commercial and Student-Oriented Low-Cost Deep-Space Missions: A Global Survey of Activity,” Proceedings of the 3rd IAA International Conference on Low-Cost Planetary Missions.