NASA Schedules Robotic Spacecraft Launch

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NASA is getting ready to launch their first autonomous robotic spacecraft, a repair bot called the DART, or Demonstration of Autonomous Rendezvous Technology, that is designed to fix orbiting satellites without any human guidance or intervention

By ALICIA CHANG
The Associated Press
Saturday, April 2, 2005; 10:56 AM

LOS ANGELES - After a series of delays, NASA has scheduled April 15 as the launch date for the first robotic spacecraft designed to rendezvous in orbit with other satellites without any human intervention, officials said Friday.

If all goes as planned, the DART spacecraft - short for Demonstration of Autonomous Rendezvous Technology - will soar into space off the California coast, catch up with an orbiting Pentagon satellite and maneuver around it, making close approaches and moving away.

The U.S. space program has so far relied on astronauts to maneuver around spacecraft in orbit and repair them. If the 24-hour DART mission is successful, it will lay the foundation for future manned and unmanned projects using similar technology.

Future applications could include robotic delivery of cargo to the international space station and automated docking and repair between spacecraft in orbit.

The $110 million DART is equipped with on-board computers and sensors to perform tasks without human guidance.
“The goal of DART is to basically have an autopilot,” said Jim Snoddy, DART project manager at Marshall. “If you don’t have astronauts, you have a way to totally turn it over to an autonomous system.”

The 800-pound spacecraft will be attached to a Pegasus winged rocket and mounted on Orbital Sciences Corp.'s Stargazer L-1011 aircraft at Vandenberg Air Force Base on the coast northwest of Los Angeles.

The aircraft will carry the rocket over the Pacific and launch it at an altitude of about 40,000 feet.

After entering a polar orbit more than 400 miles high, DART will travel around the Earth and join up with three satellites. It will then begin interacting with one of them, an experimental communications satellite that was launched in 1999 and carries special reflectors for use in guidance systems like the one aboard DART.

The spacecraft will maneuver around the satellite, using its own software to navigate.

Previously scheduled DART launches last fall were canceled because of technical snags and poor weather.

That is one complex autonomous mode

Yeah, you said it. It makes me all warm and fuzzy inside to know that we are going to be doing these things in the future (oh, boy, do we have a lot to lean!!! :eek: ). Personally, I want to learn how to move in 2-D before we start messing with 3-D.
However, if anyone starts doing 4-D I would be happy for them to try to explain it to me!