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Last Updated: Monday, 18 April, 2005, 11:16 GMT 12:16 UK
Glitch ends Dart mission early
Dart artist's concept, Nasa
Dart reached no closer than 91m from its target
An experimental robotic spacecraft mission for the US space agency has been aborted due to a fuel problem.

The $110m probe was supposed to meet up with a Pentagon satellite in space using new computer guidance systems.

Dart (Demonstration of Autonomous Rendezvous Technology) had been designed to manoeuvre within 5m (17ft) of the military satellite.

The US space agency (Nasa) said Dart reached no closer than 91m (300ft) of its target during the day-long test.

Nasa's Dart project manager, Jim Snoddy, said the satellite had an unexpectedly high number of navigational errors. But he refused to speculate on whether this had been responsible for the early depletion of fuel.

"A lot of the objectives were met, although the primary objectives were not," said Mr Snoddy, who led development efforts at the agency's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.

The experiment was intended to demonstrate an automated rendezvous technology that could be used in sending human explorers to the Moon and Mars.

Nasa has relied on pilot astronauts to dock different spacecraft since the Gemini missions of the 1960s.

But if the process could be automated, several components of a large spacecraft could be joined in orbit before astronauts set off on a journey into space.

Dart was launched on Friday from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

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