July 14, 2004 -- 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: http://www.msfc.nasa.gov/news/dart/
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