Next Milestone Complete on DART Spacecraft as Launch Date Nears

DART mission logo.NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) spacecraft was attached to its payload adapter on Nov. 11 inside the SpaceX Payload Processing Facility at Vandenberg Space Force Base in California. An integrated team of workers with NASA’s Launch Services Program (LSP), SpaceX, and the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) completed the work in preparation for a late November launch.

DART will be the first mission to test technologies for preventing a hazardous asteroid from impacting Earth. DART’s target asteroid is not a threat to Earth, but the mission will prove that a spacecraft can autonomously navigate to a target asteroid and kinetically impact it.

“Mating the payload to the adapter is a very important milestone for the mission since it is the critical interface between the spacecraft and launch vehicle, where the two come together and need to separate cleanly to send the spacecraft on its planetary defense journey,” said Marisa Wyssling-Horn, integration engineer with LSP.

DART was lifted from its processing stand and lowered onto the launch vehicle payload adapter. Measuring just 24 inches in diameter, this is the first time that this smaller size adapter is being used. The team then mated the electrical connectors between the spacecraft and the adapter. Finally, the integrated stack of spacecraft and adapter was secured to the payload attach fitting. The mate process took about a day to complete.

“It is also an exciting milestone since it is the first time that the full team, which had been working together for years, came together in person on a major operation,” Wyssling-Horn said.

Final closeouts will occur over the next two weeks in preparation for launch aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Vandenberg during a launch window that opens at 10:21 p.m. PST, Nov. 23 (1:21 a.m. EST, Nov. 24). Next up, DART will be encapsulated in the payload fairing and attached to the Falcon 9 rocket to prepare for rollout to the launch pad.

The Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory has been directed to manage the DART mission for NASA’s Planetary Defense Coordination Office as a project of the agency’s Planetary Missions Program Office. The agency provides support for the mission from several centers, including the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, Johnson Space Center in Houston, Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, and Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia. The launch is managed by NASA’s Launch Services Program, based at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. SpaceX is the rocket provider for the DART launch.