Press Release

Autonomous Rendezvous Spacecraft Arrives at Vandenberg

By SpaceRef Editor
July 14, 2004
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The Demonstration for Autonomous Rendezvous Technology
(DART) flight demonstrator, a spacecraft developed to prove
technologies to locate and maneuver near an orbiting
satellite, today arrived at Vandenberg Air Force Base,
Calif., in preparation for a fall 2004 launch.

Future applications of technologies developed by the DART
project will benefit the nation in future space-vehicle
systems development requiring in-space assembly, services or
other autonomous rendezvous operations.

Designed and developed for NASA by Orbital Sciences
Corporation, Dulles, Va., the DART spacecraft will be
launched on a Pegasus launch vehicle.

At about 40,000 feet over the Pacific Ocean, the Pegasus will
be released from Orbital’s Stargazer L-1011 aircraft, fire
its rocket motors and boost DART into a polar orbit
approximately 472 miles by 479 miles.

Once in orbit, DART will rendezvous with a target satellite,
the Multiple Paths, Beyond-Line-of-Site Communications
(MUBLCOM) satellite, also built by Orbital Sciences. DART
will then perform several close proximity operations, such as
moving toward and away from the satellite using navigation
data provided by onboard sensors.

Launched in May 1999, the MUBLCOM satellite was used by the
Department of Defense as an experimental communications
satellite. The entire 24-hour mission will be accomplished
without human intervention and is unscripted. The DART flight
computer will determine its own path to accomplish its
mission objectives.

“Successful completion of all major system tests gives us the
confidence the DART spacecraft will complete its mission
objectives and is ready to move to the field site to begin
integration with the launch vehicle,” said Jim Snoddy, DART
project manager at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center,
Huntsville, Ala. “This milestone moves us one step closer to
demonstrating the key technologies that will enable future
space transportations systems,” he added.

The DART spacecraft will be mated to the Pegasus launch
vehicle over the next several months at Vandenberg. Flight
simulations and final reviews are scheduled to ensure launch
readiness in the fall.

The DART spacecraft is nearly six feet long, with a diameter
of three feet, and weighs about 800 pounds.

The DART project is funded by NASA’s Office of Exploration
Systems and managed by the Marshall Space Flight Center.
Government oversight of launch vehicle preparations,
spacecraft integration and countdown management on launch day
is the responsibility of the NASA Launch Services Program
based at Kennedy Space Center, Fla.

For more information on DART on the Internet, visit:

SpaceRef staff editor.