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Expendable Launch Vehicle Status Report

George H. Diller
NASA Kennedy Space Center
MISSION: Demonstration of Autonomous Rendezvous Technology (DART)
LAUNCH SITE: Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif.
LAUNCH DATE: Oct. 26, 2004
LAUNCH WINDOW: 11:13:32 a.m. - 11:20:32 a.m. PDT

The DART satellite and Pegasus XL launch vehicle were successfully re-mated on Oct. 1 at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. Analysis of the alternate method of monitoring the upper stage hydrazine fuel tank pressure is planned to be completed this week.

Final testing of the Advanced Video Guidance Sensor hardware, the primary technology demonstration experiment, has been successfully completed. The final Pegasus/DART launch and mission simulation was successfully completed on Oct. 8.

The DART Mission Readiness Review will occur on Friday, Oct. 15 at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. At the conclusion of a successful review, the Oct. 26 launch date should become firm.

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-Sight 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.

LAUNCH PAD: 17-A Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla.
LAUNCH DATE: Nov. 8, 2004 NET
LAUNCH WINDOW: 12:04 p.m. - 1:04 p.m. EST

The launch of Swift is scheduled to occur on Monday, Nov. 8 from Pad 17-A on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. The launch time is 12:04 p.m. EST at the opening of a one-hour launch window. The stacking of the Boeing Delta II launch vehicle on Pad 17-A continues this week.

Swift is in the clean room at NASA's Hangar AE on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. A "first motion" solar array deployment test was completed on Tuesday, Oct. 12. An Aliveness Test, an overall state of health test for the spacecraft, is scheduled for Thursday, Oct. 14 followed by a solar array illumination test on Friday, Oct. 15. Swift will be mated to the payload attach fitting on Oct. 19.

At Pad 17-A, the first major power-on testing of the Boeing Delta II launch vehicle is now under way. The stacking of the first stage on the pad occurred Oct. 1, followed by attachment of the three strap-on solid rocket boosters on Oct. 2. The payload fairing was lifted into the clean room of the mobile service tower on Oct. 4. The second stage was hoisted into position atop the first stage on Oct. 8.

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 was 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.