NASA's robotic spacecraft to be launched on April 15

April 4, 2005
DART flight demonstrator, top left, rendezvous with the MUBLCOM satellite, bottom right, in orbit

After a series of delays, NASA's Demonstration of Autonomous Rendezvous Technology (DART) spacecraft is finally scheduled to launch at 1:21 p.m. EDT, April 15 from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif.
DART is a flight demonstrator that provides a key step in establishing autonomous rendezvous capabilities for the U.S. space program. DART will rendezvous with the Multiple Paths, Beyond-Line-of-Site Communications (MUBLCOM) satellite. It will perform several close proximity operations, such as moving toward and away from the satellite using navigation data provided by onboard sensors.

The Demonstration of Autonomous Rendezvous Technology (DART) is a 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 spacecraft will have computers and sensors to perform all of its rendezvous functions.

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

Once on orbit, DART will travel around the Earth to rendezvous with the target satellite, the Multiple Paths,
Beyond-Line-of-Site Communications (MUBLCOM) satellite, also built by Orbital Sciences. Launched in May 1999, the MUBLCOM satellite was used by the Department of Defense as an experimental communications satellite and was outfitted with optical retro reflectors designed for future use with a video guidance system such as the Advanced Video Guidance Sensor (AVGS) onboard DART.

The AVGS is an advanced version of the Video Guidance Sensor developed by the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., for NASA’s Automated Rendezvous and Capture Project, which demonstrated these automated capabilities in the mid-1990s -- including two successful flight tests on board the Space Shuttle. The next-generation AVGS incorporates advanced optics and electronics and allows DART to communicate with and track the MUBLCOM satellite within a range of 5 to 250-plus meters.

Once DART reaches the MUBLCOM satellite, it will perform several autonomous rendezvous and close proximity operations, such as moving toward and away from the satellite using navigation data provided by the AVGS and Global Positioning System (GPS) based information.

DART is the first demonstration program selected by NASA's Exploration Systems Mission Directorate to develop technologies for the Vision for Space Exploration. The Vision calls for the safe return to flight of the Space Shuttle, completion of the International Space Station and human and robotic exploration of the Solar System.

If the 24-hour DART mission is successful, it will lay the foundation for future manned and unmanned projects using similar technology.

Flight demonstrators, like DART, have a critical role in demonstrating technologies that cannot be validated on
the ground. DART will help lay groundwork for future reusable manned and unmanned launch vehicle missions
using autonomous rendezvous operations. Future technology applications may aid in cargo delivery, servicing
missions for the International Space Station and other on-orbit activities, such as satellite retrieval or servicing to enable future civil, defense and commercial space transportation. NASA is pursuing technologies that will enable the Agency to achieve its goals of establishing safe, reliable, affordable access to space.

Source: NASA

Explore further: CubeSats to an asteroid

Related Stories

CubeSats to an asteroid

November 3, 2015

The five CubeSat concepts to be studied to accompany ESA's proposed Asteroid Impact Mission into deep space have been selected.

AIDA double mission to divert Didymos asteroid's Didymoon

September 30, 2015

An ambitious joint US-European mission, called AIDA, is being planned to divert the orbit of a binary asteroid's small moon, as well as to give us new insights into the structure of asteroids. A pair of spacecraft, the ESA-led ...

NASA Releases DART Accident Report Summary

May 16, 2006

NASA released a summary Monday of the findings about why its Demonstration of Autonomous Rendezvous Technology spacecraft did not complete its mission and collided with the intended rendezvous satellite on April 15, 2005.

NASA spacecraft moves one step closer to fall launch

October 1, 2004

A demonstration of unmanned spacecraft rendezvous in space - something that has never been done in the history of U.S. spaceflight - is planned later this month. The Autonomous Rendezvous Technology (DART) demonstrator will ...

Recommended for you

Quantum dots used to convert infrared light to visible light

December 1, 2015

(—A team of researchers at MIT has succeeded in creating a double film coating that is able to convert infrared light at modest intensities into visible light. In their paper published in the journal Nature Photonics, ...

Cassini mission provides insight into Saturn

December 1, 2015

Scientists have found the first direct evidence for explosive releases of energy in Saturn's magnetic bubble using data from the Cassini spacecraft, a joint mission between NASA, the European Space Agency, and the Italian ...

Xbox gaming technology may improve X-ray precision

December 1, 2015

With the aim of producing high-quality X-rays with minimal radiation exposure, particularly in children, researchers have developed a new approach to imaging patients. Surprisingly, the new technology isn't a high-tech, high-dollar ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.