Kennedy News

Text Size

Expendable Launch Vehicle Status Report

George H. Diller
NASA Kennedy Space Center

LAUNCH PAD: 17-A Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla.
LAUNCH DATE: Oct. 7, 2004
LAUNCH WINDOW: 12:57 p.m. - 1:57 p.m. EDT

The Swift observatory is in the clean room at NASA's Hangar AE on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. In preparation for Hurricane Frances, the spacecraft is covered in a protective double bag and has also been installed in its shipping container for additional protection.

The stacking of the Boeing Delta II launch vehicle on Pad 17-A has been postponed until after the hurricane.

The Swift observatory will pinpoint the location of distant yet fleeting explosions that appear to signal the births of black holes. 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 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 is a medium-class Explorer mission managed by NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. The observatory has been built for NASA by Spectrum Astro, a division of General Dynamics. The Kennedy Space Center in Florida is responsible for Swift's integration with the Boeing Delta II rocket and the countdown management on launch day.

MISSION: Demonstration of Autonomous Rendezvous Technology (DART)
LAUNCH SITE: Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif.
LAUNCH DATE: Oct. 19, 2004

At Vandenberg Air Force Base, processing of the Pegasus XL launch vehicle is going well. Mating of the second stage to the third stage is currently in progress. The first of three Pegasus Flight Simulations has been successfully completed. The second simulation is scheduled for Sept. 7, and the third is currently planned for Sept. 23.

The upper stage that will provide maneuvering for the spacecraft during mission operations is scheduled to be mated to DART this week. 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 is expected to arrive at Vandenberg approximately Sept. 12 for installation aboard the satellite.

DART was designed and built for NASA by Orbital Sciences Corporation as an advanced flight demonstrator to locate and maneuver near an orbiting satellite. The DART spacecraft weighs about 800 pounds and 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 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 its rendezvous functions.

Once in orbit, DART will make contact 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 on-board 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.

-- end --