Raytheon Co. has proposed a robotic lunar lander to NASA that would be based on technology already developed for a missile defense program .

A Raytheon official said the lander leverages propulsion system technology developed for the Exo-atmospheric Kill Vehicle (EKV), which was developed and manufactured by Raytheon Missile Systems of Tucson, Ariz., for the U.S. Missile Defense Agency. The propulsion system is combined with autonomous navigation technology developed for cruise missiles, she said.

“The proposal is based on these two technologies in which there has been an enormous amount of investment over the last 15 years or so, especially for the missile defense interceptors,” Karleen Seybold, senior systems engineer at Raytheon Missile Systems, said in an April 4 interview. “We’re pulling this technology together in a very low-cost, autonomous lunar lander.”

The EKV, which was developed under a contract Raytheon won in 1998, sits atop the Ground-based Midcourse Defense system missile. The kill vehicle is launched aboard that missile into space, and once outside the atmosphere, the EKV is designed to separate from its launcher and home in on and destroy incoming missile warheads through the force of the collision.

The EKV propulsion unit, dubbed the attitude divert-and-control system, helps the kill vehicle maneuver, Seybold said.

For the lunar lander, Raytheon would combine the propulsion system with terrain-guided navigation technology used on cruise missiles, she said.

Seybold said the combination of the EKV propulsion technology and the cruise missile navigation system would provide a soft landing on the lunar surface. That navigation system, which is known as the Digital Scene Matching Area Correlation system, would compare a stored image of the landing area with the actual landing area.

“There is a very limited amount of technology development for the lander,” Seybold said. “It is leveraged from all the flight technology we have now.”

Raytheon already has delivered 18 EKVs for the missile defense system and is under contract for 23 more, Seybold said. The lunar lander could be manufactured using many of the same production lines and personnel, she said.

Raytheon proposed the mission in response to a September solicitation released by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., for the Robotic Lunar Exploration Program. The program is intended to develop a series of robotic missions to the Moon starting in 2008 or 2009 to pave the way for future human exploration missions.

The proposed mission would confirm the presence of water ice in the areas on the Moon’s surface.

“We have been working with Goddard informally since the concept was sent in,” Seybold said. “They have been discussing scenarios and providing feedback, and we have been educating them on our missile defense technologies.”

The Raytheon proposal is a three-stage mission, with a cruise stage that under their proposal would be built by General Dynamics’ Spectrum Astro Space Systems of Gilbert, Ariz., Seybold said. The lander would be carried aboard the second stage, which would carry a large solid motor braking stage that would fire as the lander approached the Moon, she said.

The propulsion system on the EKV-derived lander would then be used to provide a soft landing on the lunar surface, Seybold said. A drill and scientific instruments developed by other Raytheon teammates will perform the water ice validation work, she said.

The mission would be launched aboard a Taurus rocket manufactured by Orbital Science Corp. of Dulles, Va., Seybold said. The lightweight technology used for the lander would allow a lunar launch using the smaller rocket, she said.

The total mission budget is less than $300 million according to NASA’s request for information, but Seybold declined to reveal the cost of Raytheon’s proposal.

NASAPRIVATE puncspace:p  issued numerous requests for information regarding future exploration missions, Cynthia O’Carroll, a Goddard spokeswoman said. The number of responses was not available, she said.

NASA has not settled on a lander for the mission, or even set a schedule, but a formal request for proposal could be released in late summer, Seybold said. Beyond that, Raytheon is eyeing other potential NASA missions for the technology.

“We are looking at this for other lunar mission and planetary landers as well,” Seybold said. “When you look at what NASA want to do in the next 10 to 15 years, there are a lot of efforts where this kind of technology could apply.”