NASA has targeted heliophysics, Earth sciences, and planetary sciences as high-priority areas of scientific interest. Developing advanced distributed spacecraft capabilities will strongly advance NASA's ability to investigate and understand the complex physical interactions characteristic in these areas. NASA's goals in heliophysics are particularly well-suited for the proposed application. Understanding phenomena like magnetic reconnection in geospace requires multi-point, multi-instrument data acquisition over short and long time scales. Obtaining sufficient quality and quantity of data to characterize these environments will remain difficult until distributed systems of spacecraft working with significant more autonomy are available. Stereographic and multi-viewpoint imaging enables the resolution of features and their setting in detail that is simply unobtainable via single spacecraft observations. The notional MEDICI mission proposes using two spacecraft to observe the same environment from differing angles to obtain a stereographic view of ionospheric behavior.
Other government agencies can leverage this technology in multiple applications and environments. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), in partnership with the Department of Defense (DoD) and NASA, has been directed to lead the White House's Space Weather Action Plan, which will oversee the "deployment of new operational space-weather-observing assets." NOAA operates the NASA-developed Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) satellite in deep space and intends to deploy other satellites to maintain the continuity of this mission's data collection objectives. The proposed innovation is potentially critical to allowing the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) (in partnership with NASA), to develop an autonomous multi-spacecraft Landsat. Launch vehicles, like United Launch Alliance's (ULA) Vulcan rocket and its future Advanced Cryogenic Evolved Stage (ACES), will maximize the time the vehicle remains operational. Our proposed solution enables ACES to autonomously monitor its orbit relative to other spacecraft and accurately deliver payloads to target orbits reliably.