Smart Craft Becomes Space Junk
An unmanned NASA spacecraft designed to track and link with other orbiting craft has failed to rendezvous with a US military satellite 765 kilometres above the earth.
The 225-kilogram Demonstration of Autonomous Rendezvous Technology (DART) craft experienced a mishap in orbit late on Friday that caused it to divert its path, NASA said.
The DART craft, 1.8 metres long and 90 centimetres in diameter, was supposed to manoeuvre within five metres of the satellite, a NASA spokeswoman said.
The spacecraft came within 90 metres of its target, a military communications satellite.
The DART craft was launched from an aircraft at the Vandenberg Air Force Base in California on Friday as part of a $US143 million mission.
It was designed to test technology to eventually track and dock with other crafts without human guidance or intervention, allowing future unmanned spacecraft to carry cargo to orbiting space stations or repair disabled satellites.
The DART craft "placed itself in the retirement phase before completing all planned proximity operations, ending the mission prematurely", NASA said.
NASA would convene a board to investigate the reason for the mishap, the agency said.
NASA said the DART program accomplished some key goals during its mission, meant to last 24 hours.
The craft would enter an unstable orbit and burn up within 25 years, NASA said.