April 15, 2005
NASA Launches Robotic Test Craft
VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. (AP) -- A NASA robotic spacecraft equipped with navigational computers and sensors was launched into orbit Friday to rendezvous with a Pentagon satellite without the help of astronauts or human controllers.
If the $110 million mission is successful, it could lay the groundwork for future projects like robotic delivery of cargo to space shuttles and automated docking and repair between spacecraft in orbit.
The DART spacecraft - short for Demonstration of Autonomous Rendezvous Technology - was mounted and launched from a Stargazer L-1011 aircraft at 10:25 a.m. PDT. The mission originated from Vandenberg Air Force Base.
The aircraft carried the 800-pound DART, which was mated to a Pegasus winged rocket, over the Pacific Ocean and released it at an altitude of about 30,000 feet.
DART was designed to catch up with the Pentagon satellite flying 472 miles above Earth. The satellite was launched in 1999 and carries special reflectors for use in guidance systems similar to the one aboard DART.
During the 24-hour mission, DART will attempt several automated tasks, including maneuvering around the satellite, making close approaches and moving away.
DART is managed by NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala.
Previously scheduled DART launches last fall were scrapped because of technical problems and poor weather.
On the Net:
Vandenberg Air Force Base: http://www.vandenberg.af.mil