Launch to excellence

T-Minus DART

The T-Minus DART is a system for fast and low-cost probing of the upper atmosphere. A certain part of the atmosphere is hardly investigated until now. At altitudes between 50 and 120 km, the air density is too low for balloons to float, and too high for satellites to maintain their orbit. Sounding rockets can be used to perform in-situ measurements, but these are usually too expensive for simple and frequent missions.

The T-Minus DART system is designed to fill this void. With this low-cost and rapidly deployable rocket system, small payloads can be launched to altitudes above 120 km, from which they can descend through the atmosphere and perform in-situ measurements. The vehicle consists of a lightweight and powerful booster motor and a dart-shaped payload compartment. The booster diameter is 114 mm, compatible with existing Viper IIIA launch equipment. The diameter of the dart is only 35 mm, in order to minimize drag losses.
Download T-Minus DART information leaflet


Scientific payload

Three types of payload are currently envisioned:

  • Passive payload (reflective chaff or inflated sphere)
  • Smart-dart with PTU sensors and inertial or GPS-based flight path determination
  • Customized payload: a dart with customer-designed sensors, equipped with service system and telemetry link
  • The maximum payload volume is 30 x 250 mm (DxL) The use of a recovery / deceleration system is optional for increased measurement time.

    Range test vehicle

    Other than the use as scientific probing vehicle, the DART serves as an excellent range test vehicle as well. Its small size, low cost and ease of operation make it an ideal platform to quickly map the weather conditions in the higher layers of the atmosphere. Next to that, the correct functioning of range equipment such as telemetry and radar stations can easily be verified in realistic mission conditions.

    Upon ignition, the booster provides thrust for 6.5 seconds. After burnout, the aerodynamic forces cause vehicle separation and the dart coasts until it reaches apogee altitude, approximately 150 seconds into the flight. Here, the recovery system is activated, so that the measurement time is maximized. The booster follows a ballistic trajectory until it impacts on the ground.

    News item of the first test flight


    H2020 SME Instrument phase 1

    In 2017, the DART project was awarded an Horizon 2020 SME-Instrument grant. Within the SME phase 1, a feasibility study will be performed that addresses the final steps required for commercialization: a detailed survey of user demands, formation of a European consortium for executing two demo launch campaigns and addressing the regulations regarding transport and operations. It leads to an elaborated business plan and market implementation roadmap.

    Booster characteristics

    Motor dimensions
    Diameter[m] 0.118 (Viper IIA compatible)
    Length[m] 2.3
    Motor performance
    Burn time [s] 5
    Average thrust [kN] 8
    Motor weights
    Propellant mass [kg] 22
    Loaded mass [kg] 29
    Other characteristics
    Propellant type AP composite
    Casing material Carbon fiber reinforced plastic
    Nozzle material Aluminum/graphite

    Dart characteristics

    Dimensions
    Diameter 35 mm
    Length 1.2 m
    Weights
    Total mass 3.5 kg
    Payload mass 0.5 kg
    Loads
    Max acceleration < 60 G
    Maximum Mach number 5.2