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Moving in Stereo, Pairing imaging craft to provide richer data
post Oct 30 2020, 03:33 PM
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I've been reading Akatsuki results from Venus and an interesting gap in the data concerns uncertainty regarding the altitude of observed atmospheric features. This reminded me, one the one hand, of a similar issue regarding JunoCam images of Jupiter's clouds and, on the other hand, of spacecraft pairs – actual and proposed – which make good use of a pair of spacecraft and the baselines between them. This was an essential element of the Grail lunar mission, and also magnetometry in the upcoming BepiColombo mission. Opportunistic dual readings of Jupiter's magnetic field occurred during Cassini's flyby of Jupiter while Galileo was still operating. The Voyagers have measured various phenomena related to the heliopause from two widely-separate positions. There was a bold proposal that did not materialize to have New Horizons be accompanied by a second imaging craft, arriving three days sooner or later than the main craft, that would have allowed for maximum resolution of both sides of Pluto rather than just one.

The different cases here are diverse, but there's a general truth here that two vantage points can provide greatly richer data than one – and we need look no further than our own eyes and ears to validate that. (And, for what it's worth, other species make use of their two ears in even better ways than we do; barn owls, for one.)

What might be shared across these cases are engineering capabilities that would empower flight architectures for co-located, paired craft. One architecture is to have pairs of identical craft, but a more likely architecture would be a sort of master + servant pair where only the master craft craft carries the major propulsion system, heavy radio transmitter and any instruments that would not benefit from dual locations and the servant craft would carry only thrusters, the paired instruments, and a low gain transmitter to send its data to the master for transmission back to Earth. Once the master craft achieves its target trajectory, the servant craft could decouple and thrust to a location ~tens/hundreds of km away.

While, again, the particular cases may vary greatly, certain elements of the architecture, ranging from propulsion to electronics, might be shared and be cheaper, per mission, after the technology is developed for a first case.
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post Nov 8 2020, 09:04 PM
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Here's an example of imaging with Earth's clouds: https://wis-wander.weizmann.ac.il/chemistry...smallest-clouds

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