Britain could mount solo moon missions, space exploration body says

Britain could launch a program to send probes to the Moon by 2010 without the backing of Europe's space agency, according to a funding body report, the British Broadcasting Corp. reported Tuesday.

The BBC said the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council had produced outline plans for two solo moon missions, claiming the falling costs of technology make the proposals viable.

Britain has carried out all previous space exploration including the ill-fated attempt to land the Beagle 2 probe on Mars in December 2003 in conjunction with the European Space Agency or NASA.

Professor Sir Martin Sweeting, chief executive of Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd. which conducted research on behalf of the council, told the British Broadcasting Corp. he believed the proposals were credible.

"Current small missions to the moon cost around Ђ500 million (US$650 million). With advances in small satellites, we could probably cut the cost by at least a fifth," he told the broadcaster.

He said a British space program would allow businesses to "get a foothold in what could turn out to be an economically important area for a relatively low cost."

The research council was not immediately available for comment on Tuesday.

A first proposed mission named Moonlight could be launched by 2010, with four suitcase-sized instruments to be shot into craters on the moon's surface from an orbiting probe, the BBC reported.

The instruments would relay information about the composition of the moon's core and allow work to be conducted on the possibility of earthquake-style moonquakes, reports AP.

A later mission named Moonraker would land a spacecraft on the lunar surface and search for suitable sites for future manned bases, the BBC reported without clarifying if the second mission would be manned.

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