U.S. space rendezvous system passes design review
Posted: August 21, 2003

The Demonstration for Autonomous Rendezvous Technology (DART) spacecraft, recently completed design certification review for the Orbital Space Plane (OSP) program. The OSP is a NASA initiative to develop a crew rescue and transfer vehicle for the International Space Station.

An artist's concept of DART satellite rendezvous mission. Credit: Orbital Sciences
DART is a space flight demonstrator designed to test technologies required for the OSP to locate and rendezvous with the Station. The DART is designed for autonomous operations. DART is controlled by computers, and it does not have a pilot. DART is NASA's first completely computer controlled, rendezvous capable spacecraft.

The design certification review is a lengthy technical analysis to verify the vehicle design with regard to safety, performance and functional requirements. The review evaluates the results of the project's planning and analysis throughout manufacturing, integration, and testing. The review is conducted when the vehicle design and drawings are complete.

"The review is a key accomplishment for the DART team," said Jim Snoddy, DART program manager at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. "The team is pressing ahead to ready the vehicle for a 2004 launch. DART's demonstration of autonomous rendezvous technologies will be key for the development of the OSP and future reusable launch vehicles," Snoddy said.

Developed by Orbital Sciences Corporation of Dulles, Va., the DART will be launched on a Pegasus rocket from an L-1011 jet aircraft. At approximately 40,000 feet over the Pacific Ocean, the Pegasus will be released with the DART spacecraft.

Once the DART vehicle is launched, some of the hardware and software tested will enable it to travel from a parking orbit around the Earth to rendezvous, or maneuver close to, a target satellite in space. When DART reaches the satellite, it will perform several close proximity operations. The entire 24-hour mission will be performed without a human pilot.

The DART is the first of three flight-testing demonstrators. Other demonstrators for the OSP program include the X-37 flight demonstrator developed by Boeing Expendable Launch Systems of Huntington Beach, Calif., and the launch pad abort demonstrator developed by Lockheed Martin Corporation of Denver.

Apollo 17 DVD now shipping
Relive the last manned mission to the moon with this six-disc DVD featuring more than 25 hours of footage. Now shipping from the Astronomy Now Store.

Hubble Posters
Stunning posters featuring images from the Hubble Space Telescope and world-renowned astrophotographer David Malin are now available from the Astronomy Now Store.