BERLIN (Reuters) - Germany hopes to put an unmanned space craft into the moon's orbit in the early part of the next decade, a senior German official said on Wednesday.
The lunar orbit mission will be useful for scientific research, Deputy Economy Minister Peter Hintze, the government's aerospace coordinator, told reporters. "It is also a chance for Germany to prove its competence in this area."
Hintze said a report prepared by the German Aerospace Centre (DLR) would be presented to the government for consideration.
"The essence of this report is that it is possible and it makes sense," he said. "The political decision has not been made yet."
The project would be called LEO -- Lunar Exploration Orbiter -- and could be fired into space in 2012 if decisions are made and sufficient financing found, Hintze said.
He said initial costs for the project would be around 350 million euros ($513.6 million), which would cover the planning, building and launch of the spacecraft.
DLR head Johann-Dietrich Woerner said the project was not intended to compete with efforts of the European Space Agency (ESA), of which the DLR is a member, but to complement them.
"A lunar mission would be a building block and would not be against Europe or against cooperation," he said, adding that the Germans had discussed the project with NASA, ESA and the Russian Space Agency.
Both Woerner and Hintze said Germany has no plans for a manned lunar mission or a moon landing. But Woerder noted the LEO craft would be 50 kms (30 miles) above the moon's surface.
(Reporting by Louis Charbonneau; Editing by Stephen Weeks)