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NASA craft crashes into rendezvous satellite

Investigators blamed the collision on faulty navigational data that caused the craft to believe that it was backing away from its target.

india Updated: May 16, 2006 12:19 IST

A robotic NASA spacecraft designed to rendezvous with an orbiting satellite instead crashed into its target, according to a summary of the investigation.

Investigators blamed the collision on faulty navigational data that caused the DART spacecraft to believe that it was backing away from its target when it was actually bearing down on it.

"The inaccurate perception of its distance and speed ... Prevented DART from taking effective action to avoid a collision," the summary released on Monday said.

The 360-kilogram Demonstration for Autonomous Rendezvous Technology spacecraft was supposed to rendezvous with a defunct Pentagon satellite during a 24-hour period last year.

DART successfully located the target satellite orbiting 759 kilometres above Earth and moved within 90 metres of it. But problems arose when DART tried to circle the satellite.

Investigators concluded that DART spent too much fuel steering itself toward the satellite.

The excessive firings of its engines were caused by inaccurate navigational data from its on-board computer.

Determining that it would not have enough reserve fuel to complete the mission, DART began shutting down about 11 hours into the mission, but not before crashing into the satellite.

Unbeknownst to engineers at the time, DART's main sensor mistakenly believed it was flying away from the satellite when it was actually moving 1.

First Published: May 16, 2006 12:19 IST