Press Release

Orbital’s Dart Vehicle Arrives at Vandenberg Air Force Base for Prelaunch Integration and Testing

By SpaceRef Editor
July 14, 2004
Filed under ,

Company-Built Autonomous Rendezvous Technology Demonstration Vehicle to be Launched for NASA Aboard 36th Pegasus Rocket Later this Year

Orbital Sciences Corporation today announced that its
Demonstration of Autonomous Rendezvous (DART) spacecraft has arrived
at the company’s integration and processing facilities at Vandenberg
Air Force Base (VAFB), California for final testing and prelaunch
preparations before its launch into orbit. The DART vehicle, which is
about six feet long and three feet in diameter and weighs about 800
pounds, will be launched aboard the 36th flight of Orbital’s
Pegasus® space launch vehicle later this year into a polar orbit
approximately 475 miles above the Earth. Orbital designed and built
the DART spacecraft in Dulles, Virginia for NASA’s Marshall Space
Flight Center located in Huntsville, Alabama.

The DART vehicle is a technology demonstration platform designed
to test the technologies required for a spacecraft to locate and
rendezvous with another spacecraft without direct human guidance.
While NASA has performed rendezvous and docking missions in the past,
such as the Space Shuttle locating and docking with the International
Space Station (ISS), astronauts have always piloted the spacecraft.
The DART mission will be performed autonomously by onboard computer
systems without direct human involvement in the control of the
vehicle. The technologies demonstrated by DART represent a critical
step forward in establishing an autonomous rendezvous capability for
the United States, laying the groundwork for future reusable manned
and unmanned launch vehicle operations. Future applications of this
technology include cargo delivery, in-orbit space assembly and other
on-orbit activities such as satellite retrieval and servicing

Following its launch aboard the Pegasus rocket, DART will perform
a series of in-orbit maneuvers to arrive at a point near a target
satellite using state-of-the-art Global Positioning System (GPS)
navigation techniques. Using the vehicle’s main instrument, the
Advanced Video Guidance Sensor (AVGS), DART will then approach the
target satellite and perform a series of proximity operations
including station keeping, docking axis approaches and
circumnavigation. Finally, the vehicle will demonstrate a collision
avoidance maneuver and then depart the vicinity and transition to its
final orbit. The entire mission sequence will be accomplished under
autonomous control and will be completed in under 24 hours.

About Orbital

Orbital develops and manufactures small space and rocket systems
for commercial, military and civil government customers. The company’s
primary products are satellites and launch vehicles, including
low-orbit, geosynchronous and planetary spacecraft for communications,
remote sensing, scientific and defense missions; ground- and
air-launched rockets that deliver satellites into orbit; and missile
defense systems that are used as interceptor and target vehicles.
Orbital also offers space-related technical services to government
agencies and develops and builds satellite-based transportation
management systems for public transit agencies and private vehicle
fleet operators.

Notes to Editors:


Orbital Sciences Corporation

Public and Investor Relations:

Barron Beneski, 703-406-5528

SpaceRef staff editor.