Autonomous spacecraft set for test flight

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flynn

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<i>Newscientist Artical</i><br /><br /><b>Autonomous spacecraft set for test flight </b><br /> <br /> <br />14:59 22 October 04 <br /> <br />NewScientist.com news service <br /> <br />A completely autonomous vehicle designed to rendezvous with a satellite is set to launch into orbit Tuesday. The NASA mission aims to test technologies that will eventually allow the docking of spacecraft and the fixing of satellites with no human intervention - crucial for ambitious plans to explore the solar system.<br /><br />Russia uses automated technology to dock its Soyuz spacecraft and Progress cargo vehicles to the International Space Station. And Europe and Japan are developing self-directed steering and mooring capabilities.<br /><br />But the US still relies on astronauts to park the space shuttle. "With all of the exploration vision activities of going to the Moon and Mars, a critical element of that is being able to do autonomous rendezvous and docking," says Frank Bauer, an engineer at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. He says cargo would probably be transported to these destinations in stages, with stops in low-Earth orbit and again at outposts near the destination.<br /><br />Now, NASA is taking the first step towards that goal with DART - Demonstration of Autonomous Rendezvous Technology. The spacecraft is fitted with GPS and lasers to home in on an experimental communications satellite already in orbit.<br /><br />The 1.8-metre-long vehicle will take off in a carrier plane from California's Vandenberg Air Force Base at 1113 Pacific Daylight Time (1913 British Summer Time) on 26 October. At a height of 12 kilometres, it will drop away from the plane and then soar to an altitude of 500 km on a Pegasus rocket. <br /><br /><b>Anomalous scenarios </b><br /><br />From that height, it will use GPS and thrusters to approach its target, in orbit at an altitude of 760 km. Once near, it will move slowly towards the satellite - getting within 5 metres of it - using a vide <div class="Discussion_UserSignature"> <font color="#800080">"All God does is watch us and kill us when we get boring. We must never, ever be boring" - <strong>Chuck Palahniuk</strong>.</font> </div>
 
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