Spaceflight Now: Breaking News

SpaceDev, Univ. of Arizona make deep space camera
Posted: March 7, 2000

  Space probe
An artist's concept of SpaceDev's deep-space probe. Photo: SpaceDev
SpaceDev Inc., the world's first commercial space exploration and development company, announced Monday it has finalized an agreement whereby the University of Arizona's Lunar and Planetary Laboratory in Tucson, Ariz. will furnish to SpaceDev a multi-band imaging camera designed and built by Peter Smith.

The camera, funded by the University, will be capable of taking high quality still photographs, and of collecting multi-band scientific data designed to help scientists understand the composition of the surface of the planetary body being photographed during SpaceDev's deep space mission.

Under a unique and innovative arrangement between SpaceDev and the University, SpaceDev intends to fly the camera on one of its planned commercial deep space missions, with the current target being a near earth asteroid.

Michael J. Drake, director of the University's Lunar and Planetary Laboratory (LPL) said of the agreement, "We are excited to be working with SpaceDev on an innovative mission to a near-Earth asteroid. LPL is a 'can do' academic organization that brought the world the exciting and unique Mars Pathfinder lander and rover pictures from the surface of Mars on July 4, 1997. SpaceDev is the leading commercial company involved in the scientific exploration of space. The only sector of space activity that has not entered the commercial sector so far is science. LPL and SpaceDev intend to be the first partnership to change that fact. A major research university, working with an innovative private company, can return high quality science at a fraction of the cost of a government mission. When we succeed in this venture, we will change forever the way the scientific exploration of space is carried out. These are exciting times."

"We are looking forward to working with Mike and his team -- they have world-class people and experience. Peter Smith has a great reputation for building high quality, lower-cost cameras, and I am looking forward to collaborating with him on this project and possibly other related projects in the near future," said Jim Benson, chairman and chief executive officer of SpaceDev.

A true color of Mars based from the camera aboard Pathfinder in 1997. Photo: NASA/JPL

In return for providing a ride for the camera at no charge to the University of Arizona, SpaceDev will receive exclusive rights to offer for sale the camera's photos and scientific data. It is hoped this revenue will pay for the ride and produce a profit by making the unique photos available as Internet content, and by providing valuable scientific data at a cost far less than the cost of data from similar government missions.

"I believe small, low-cost and fully insured commercial missions to the inner planets offer the safest and surest means of guaranteeing that inexpensive, high quality science data will be provided to more scientists than ever before possible. Insured, fixed-price commercial science missions to the Moon, Mars and near-earth asteroids, for less than $30 million, could become an important part of the future for planetary exploration for NASA and other governments around the world," said Benson.

There are over 50 chemically distinct types of asteroids. Less than 1,000 out of an estimated 100 million near earth asteroids of 10 meters or larger have been discovered. Less than 60 of those have been analyzed from earth-bound instruments, and only four have been photographed up close. The University of Arizona camera would potentially provide unique and valuable scientific information about these mysterious and largely unknown close neighbors of Earth.

Many near earth objects -- asteroids and dormant comets -- are the easiest and least expensive planetary bodies to visit. Scientists estimate a large percentage of these objects consist of ten percent or more of water, the most abundant substance in the universe. Water in space is potentially very valuable because water is the basis of life, and because it may be the most likely source of concentrated energy in space. The simple electrolysis of water, using a spacecraft's solar array, would produce hydrogen and oxygen, the most chemically powerful rocket fuel.

An 8-image mosaic taken by camera aboard Mars Pathfinder after Sojourner rover was deployed onto Martian surface. Photo: NASA/JPL

About SpaceDev

SpaceDev offers low-cost commercial missions and spacecraft for lunar orbiters, Mars orbiters and probe carriers, and asteroid rendezvous and landers for sale as turnkey, fixed price, commercial products, a first for the space industry. Also a first, SpaceDev offers fixed-price package delivery for science instruments and technology demonstrations into earth orbit, deep space and to other planetary bodies. SpaceDev designs and sells small, low-cost Earth-orbiting commercial or research satellites. SpaceDev has recently designed inexpensive orbital transfer vehicles, and secondary payload micro-kick motors for the Air Force. SpaceDev has acquired hybrid sounding rocket, motor, and launch vehicle designs, and intellectual property rights produced by the former American Rocket Co. (AMROC).

Established in 1997, SpaceDev is the world's first commercial space exploration and development company. SpaceDev's corporate offices are located near San Diego in Poway, Calif. SpaceDev and The Boeing Co., the world's largest aerospace company, recently announced that they have teamed together to investigate opportunities of mutual strategic interest in the commercial deep-space arena.

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