NASA says the Double Asteroid Redirect Test (DART) spacecraft has arrived at SpaceX’s Vandenberg Space Force Base (VSFB) facility for launch later this month.
After being carefully packaged for shipment from the Applied Physics Laboratory at Johns Hopkins University (JHUAPL) in Maryland on September 29, the small 690 kg (~ 1,500 lb) spacecraft was transported by road and arrived in third-party VSFB processing facilities on October 2. Once there, technicians unpacked the DART, charged its batteries, and performed a wide range of final tests and checks to verify nominal operation of all of the spacecraft’s systems after a journey of nearly three thousand miles.
On October 26, the spacecraft was readied for transport again, this time traveling just a few miles between Asrtotech and SpaceX’s Payload Processing Facilities (PPF). Co-located inside the main hangar of the company’s Space Launch Complex 4 (SLC-4), where DART’s reused Falcon 9 rocket is also preparing for flight, the NASA spacecraft is now only a fraction of a mile from where it will soon take off.
At SpaceX’s PPF, DART will be fueled with toxic hydrazine thruster for its attitude control thrusters and (likely but not confirmed) with xenon thruster for its main ion thruster propulsion system. systems, and generally preparing the spacecraft for launch.
Approximately 7-10 days before NASA’s current launch date of 10:20 p.m. PST on November 23 (5:20 a.m. UTC, November 24), SpaceX will encapsulate DART and its Italian-made companion LICIACube smallsat inside the Falcon 9’s payload fairing, which will eclipse the relatively small duo.
Without a fairing and DART, the two-flight Falcon 9 B1063 booster and a new non-reusable upper stage will likely be deployed to SLC-4E for the first time around November 16 to complete a wet dress rehearsal before launch and a static fire test. . Falcon 9 will then return to the hangar, where SpaceX will install its payload fairing with DART safely inside. Barring any surprises, the fully integrated rocket will then be deployed to the platform for the last time a few days before launch.
Despite the small payload and indications from NASA and SpaceX public data that Falcon 9 is more than capable of a return landing to the launch site after launching a spacecraft roughly 50% heavier than DART , Falcon 9 B1063 would have landed downstream on a drone. Of course, I still love you (OCISLY). Either way, DART will be NASA’s first interplanetary payload launched on a flight-proven commercial rocket and the first interplanetary launch of Falcon 9 (excluding TESS and DSCOVR, which technically remain under the gravitational influence of the Earth system. -Moon).