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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Private Space Probe to Survey Asteroids for Highest Bidder

WASHINGTON -- A private space probe will go prospecting for marketable information on an asteroid close to Earth, the mission's organizers said.

"We will sell our science to anyone willing to pay for it," Jim Benson, former software entrepreneur and current chairman of the SpaceDev corporation, said Tuesday. "It's a commonsense, business approach to deep space."

SpaceDev, based in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, plans to launch a probe to one of a handful of so-called near-Earth asteroids -- those with orbits that take them closer to Earth than Earth's average distance from the Sun -- by 2000, Benson said.

Of the 416 near-Earth asteroids known to exist, SpaceDev has identified a "small handful" of targets suitable for its mission. Having several asteroids in mind would allow a broader launch window, he said. Once there, the spacecraft would carry as many as five advanced scientific instruments to analyze the asteroid's size, determine its composition and assess its value.

The project will be financed privately and its total cost will not exceed $50 million, including the cost of launch, which could range from $8 million to $26 million, according to Benson.