SpaceDev's International Lunar Observatory Mission was designed to put a small dish antenna near the south pole of the Moon. From that location it would be in near-constant sunlight for solar power generation, and would be able to perform multi-wavelength astronomy while communicating with ground stations on Earth. The lunar mission was designed with the same philosophy as the successful CHIPSat Earth orbiting science spacecraft SpaceDev built for UC Berkley. SpaceDev's approach was to make systems as small, low-cost and as practical as possible while minimizing risks, in order to successfully demonstrate the performance of science on the surface of the Moon.
The Lunar Enterprise Corporation funded the study as a catalyst to other individuals, companies and countries to join together in a return to the Moon.
The SpaceDev study found that the south pole of the Moon was an ideal location for a variety of activities including a dish-type observatory. Certain areas near the pole experienced extended periods of sunlight for solar power and warmth, and were in direct line of sight to communicate with the Earth. The study also found that insufficient data existed to choose a precise landing spot and described the need for better navigation capabilities at and around the Moon.
The Lunar mission would save money and reduce risk by using hardware and software technology already developed by SpaceDev. In addition to incorporating its miniature high performance CHIPSat flight computer and Internet-based mission operation and control software, the study examined the use of SpaceDev's clean, safe hybrid rocket motor technology developed with government contracts and for the historic SpaceShipOne project.
SpaceDev estimated that an International Lunar Observatory lander mission could be conducted for significantly less than the cost of previous missions such as the successful $100 million NASA Lunar Prospector, and the $150 million DoD Clementine orbiter (in today's dollars).