Title: Science enabled by high precision inertial formation flying

Authors: Gerry K. Skinner; Brian R. Dennis; John F. Krizmanic; Eduard P. Kontar

Addresses: MPE, 85748 Garching, Germany ' NASA-GSFC, Greenbelt, MD 20770, USA ' NASA-GSFC, Greenbelt, MD 20770, USA; Universities Space Research Association (USRA), Columbia, MD 21044, USA ' Glasgow University, G12 8QQ, UK

Abstract: The capability of maintaining two satellites in precise relative position, stable in a celestial coordinate system, would enable major advances in a number of scientific disciplines and with a variety of types of instrumentation. The common requirement is for formation flying of two spacecraft with the direction of their vector separation in inertial coordinates precisely controlled and accurately determined as a function of time. We consider here the scientific goals that could be achieved with such technology and review some of the proposals that have been made for specific missions. Types of instrumentation that will benefit from the development of this type of formation flying include: 1) imaging systems, in which an optical element on one spacecraft forms a distant image recorded by a detector array on the other spacecraft, including telescopes capable of very high angular resolution; 2) systems in which the front spacecraft of a pair carries an occulting disk, allowing very high dynamic range observations of the solar corona and exoplanets; 3) interferometers, another class of instrument that aims at very high angular resolution and which, though usually requiring more than two spacecraft, demands very much the same developments.

Keywords: astrophysics; coronographs; high angular resolution; solar physics; interferometry; inertial formation flying; precision formation flying; spacecraft; satellites; imaging systems; solar corona; exoplanets.

DOI: 10.1504/IJSPACESE.2013.059271

International Journal of Space Science and Engineering, 2013 Vol.1 No.4, pp.331 - 348

Received: 09 Aug 2013
Accepted: 07 Sep 2013

Published online: 16 Feb 2014 *

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