Status Report

NASA Spacecraft and Expendable Vehicles Status Report 11 August 2004

By SpaceRef Editor
August 12, 2004
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LAUNCH DATE:  Oct. 7, 2004

LAUNCH WINDOW:  12:57 p.m. – 1:57 p.m. EDT

The Swift satellite, which will pinpoint the location of distant yet fleeting explosions that appear to signal the births of black holes, arrived at Kennedy Space Center on July 29 to begin preparations for launch.

The Observatory Integrated Systems Test is underway this week and will be completed tomorrow, Aug. 12.  This is an unabridged performance evaluation of the spacecraft’s on-board systems.  The Observatory Abbreviated Integrated System Test was successfully completed on Aug. 6. This was a “quick-look” state of health test of the spacecraft’s systems conducted after it was shipped to KSC.

The spacecraft is being powered down, secured and temporarily covered as part of pre-determined hurricane procedures based on the threat of tropical storm conditions on Friday. 

Fault protection system testing is scheduled Aug. 13 followed by software regression testing on August 14.  This tests the overall software programming to evaluate performance since were installed.  The installation of the flight blankets is planned next week, Aug. 16-17.

Gamma-ray bursts are the most powerful explosions known in the universe, emitting more than 100 billion times the energy that the Sun does in a year.  Yet they last only from a few milliseconds to a few minutes, never to appear in the same spot again.

The stacking of the Boeing Delta II launch vehicle on Pad 17-A will begin on Sept. 1 with the hoisting of the first stage into the launcher.  Attachment of the nine strap-on solid rocket boosters, in sets of three, is scheduled for Sept. 2-6.  The second stage will be hoisted into position atop the first stage on Sept. 7.  The payload fairing will be lifted inside the clean room within the mobile service tower on Sept. 8.

The Swift satellite is named for the nimble bird, because it can swiftly turn and point its instruments to catch a burst “on the fly” to study both the burst and its afterglow.  This afterglow phenomenon follows the initial gamma-ray flash in most bursts and it can linger in X-ray light, visible light and radio waves for hours or weeks, providing great detail for observations.

Swift, a medium-class explorer mission, is managed by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., and built by Spectrum Astro, a division of General Dynamics.

MISSION: Demonstration of Autonomous Rendezvous Technology (DART)


LAUNCH SITE: Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif.

LAUNCH DATE: Oct. 18, 2004 (tentative)

The Pegasus XL launch vehicle’s fourth stage has arrived and the initial testing is complete.  The hydrazine fuel upper stage will be mated to the satellite.  Later, the combination will be integrated with the Pegasus.  

In other work, the aft skirt has been installed.  The fins are mechanically mated and alignment continues.  The GPS and UHF antennas have also been installed.  Installation of fillet, material that acts as an interface between the first stage and the wing of the Pegasus, continues to undergo installation.

 The Demonstration of Autonomous Rendezvous Technology (DART) spacecraft was rotated from a horizontal to vertical position and lifted onto a test stand July 27 for current launch processing activities.  The DART spacecraft arrived at Vandenberg Air Force Base on July 13 to begin its final preparations for launch. 

The Advanced Guidance Sensor (AVGS) hardware, the primary technology demonstration experiment for the satellite, is completing final testing at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala.  The optical characterization testing and final performance verification test will be conducted this month.  The AVGS will be shipped to Vandenberg for installation aboard the satellite in early September.

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 and will also assist in vehicle development for crew transfer and crew rescue capability to and from the International Space Station.

SpaceRef staff editor.