DART spacecraft.
Inside a clean room at Johns Hopkins APL, the DART spacecraft is moved into a specialized shipping container to head across the country to Vandenberg Space Force Base near Lompoc, where DART is scheduled to launch from late next month. (Ed Whitman / NASA/Johns Hopkins APL photo)

A NASA satellite arrived at Vandenberg Space Force Base, where a team will complete final chores to prep the spacecraft for its unique mission to knock an asteroid off its path.

The Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) arrived via truck earlier this month after a cross-country trek to its launch site. 

“Although it was just a few days of travel, this has been a journey long coming,” said Elena Adams, a DART mission systems engineer from the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory. “We are all excited and relieved to see the truck arrive safely at Vandenberg and for DART to begin its final preparations for launch.”

The spacecraft will go through a series of final tests and checks, as well as fueling, in readiness for its trip to space in late November aboard a Falcon 9 rocket. 

Earlier this week, crews transported DART from the Astrotech Space Operations Facility to the Space Exploration Techologies Payload Processing Facility (PPF) at Space Launch Complex-4 on the South Base and unpacked the spacecraft from its shipping container so technicians could perform “an aliveness test” to confirm DART was in good health.

Fueling of the spacecraft followed the trip to the SpaceX facility. 

“Fueling is always a major milestone to reach during launch site processing because we don’t fuel until it is getting real,” said Julie Schneringer, NASA launch site integration manager. “Due to the toxicity of the fuel, we have to plan for and provide more support for this one operation more than any other single operation.”

In the coming weeks, DART will be integrated with a payload adapter, encapsulated in the payload fairing or rocket’s nose cone, and attached to the Falcon 9 rocket. 

The voyage to Vandenberg occurred after DART completed a pre-shipment review plus a flight operational readiness review.

“We spent the last one and a half years testing DART on the ground, practicing for what’s the most highly anticipated part yet: its flight to Dimorphos,” Adams said. “We have a few more mission rehearsals to do, with the team practicing spacecraft launch operations from Vandenberg in California and the APL Mission Operations Center in Maryland. Once completed, we will be ready for launch and operations.”

The team has touted DART as the world’s first mission to test planetary defense techniques, or ways to protect Earth from an asteroid.

DART’s mission will aim to demonstrate one possible method to deal with an asteroid taking aim at Earth. 

Using kinetic impact, DART will crash into the small asteroid moonlet Dimorphos in an attempt to change its orbit, NASA said.

“Although neither asteroid poses a threat to Earth, the collision with Dimorphos enables researchers to demonstrate the deflection technique along with several new technologies, and collect important data to enhance our modeling and predictive capabilities for asteroid deflection,” NASA said. “Those enhancements will help us better prepare should an asteroid ever be discovered as a threat to Earth.”

Liftoff is aiming for 10:20 p.m. Nov. 23 from Space Launch Complex-4 on the South Base, but launches can be delayed by technical troubles or unfavorable weather.

DART is directed by NASA’s Planetary Defense Coordination Office to the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory and managed as a project of the Planetary Missions Program Office at Marshall Space Flight Center with support from several other NASA centers including the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena.

This will be the second NASA satellite to launch from Vandenberg this fall, with the first being Landsat 9 in September.

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at jscully@noozhawk.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.