Status Report

NASA DART Launch Status Report 28 Jul 2004

By SpaceRef Editor
July 28, 2004
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MISSION: Demonstration of Autonomous Rendezvous Technology (DART)


LAUNCH SITE: Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif.

LAUNCH DATE: October 18, 2004 (tentative)

On the Pegasus XL launch vehicle, the aft skirt has been installed.  The fins are mechanically mated and alignment continues.  The GPS and UHF antennas have been installed.  Installation of fillet, material that acts as an interface between the first stage and the wing of the Pegasus, is currently undergoing installation.  The Demonstration of Autonomous Rendezvous Technology (DART) spacecraft was rotated from horizontal to vertical and lifted onto a test stand July 27 for further launch processing activities.

The DART spacecraft arrived at Vandenberg Air Force Base on July 13 to begin final preparations for launch.  The spacecraft’s Reaction Control System (RCS) has been charged with gaseous nitrogen and leak checks are underway.

DART has been designed and built for NASA by Orbital Sciences Corporation as a flight demonstrator to locate and maneuver near an orbiting satellite.  The DART spacecraft weighs about 800 pounds, is nearly 6 feet long and 3 feet in diameter.  The Orbital Sciences Pegasus XL vehicle will launch DART into a circular polar orbit of approximately 475 miles.

The DART satellite is an advanced flight demonstrator that provides a key step in establishing autonomous rendezvous capabilities for the U.S. Space Program.  While previous rendezvous and docking efforts have been piloted by astronauts, the unmanned DART satellite will have computers and cameras to perform all of its rendezvous functions.

Once in orbit, DART will rendezvous with a target satellite, the Multiple Paths, Beyond-Line-of-Site Communications (MUBLCOM), also built by Orbital Sciences and launched in 1999.  DART will then perform several close-proximity operations, such as moving toward and away from the satellite using navigation data provided by onboard sensors.  The entire mission will last only 24 hours and will be accomplished without human intervention.  The DART flight computer will determine its own path to accomplish its mission objectives.

DART is designed to demonstrate technologies required for a spacecraft to locate and rendezvous, or maneuver close to, other craft in space.  Results from the DART mission will aid in the development of NASA’s Crew Exploration Vehicle (CEV) and will also assist in vehicle development for crew transfer and crew rescue capability to and from the International Space Station.

SpaceRef staff editor.