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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

Mated to the Orbital Sciences Pegasus XL rocket at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, NASA's DART spacecraft is being transported to the runway today for mating to the underside of Orbital's L-1011 carrier aircraft. A Combined System Test involving Pegasus/DART and the L-1011 is scheduled for Friday, Oct. 22, and will be followed by a DART Flight Line Test, a spacecraft state of health check.

The DART Flight Readiness Review was successfully completed at Vandenberg Air Force Base on Wednesday, Oct. 20. The DART Mission Readiness Review was also successfully completed at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., on Oct. 15. With these two major reviews now finished, launch is on schedule for Tuesday, Oct. 26. Deployment from the L-1011 is targeted to occur at 11:13:32 a.m. PDT at a location approximately 100 miles West-Northwest of Vandenberg Air Force Base.

The DART satellite and Pegasus XL launch vehicle were successfully re-mated on Oct. 1, followed by successful final testing of the Advanced Video Guidance Sensor hardware, the primary technology demonstration experiment. The final Pegasus/DART launch and mission simulation was successfully performed on Oct. 8. Installation of the dual fairing halves around the spacecraft atop the Pegasus rocket was completed Oct. 15.

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

Today at Pad 17-A, a loading of liquid oxygen aboard the Delta first stage is being performed to check for leaks. This also serves as a "minus count" crew certification exercise for the launch team. Friday, Oct. 22, a Flight Simulation is scheduled. This is a "plus count" flight events test to very the operation of the vehicle's systems during powered flight. Testing of the guidance system aboard the Boeing Delta II rocket was completed Wednesday, Oct. 20.

Swift is in the clean room at NASA's Hangar AE on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. Wednesday, the spacecraft was weighed and early this morning it was mated to the payload attach fitting, the interface between the spacecraft and the second stage of the Delta II rocket. Work to prepare Swift for transportation to Pad 17-A will begin next week. Because of rescheduling the launch of an Air Force Global Positioning Satellite from adjacent pad 17-B, the launch date for Swift is under review but is currently expected be known within a day or so.

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.