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I came across this detailed article on NASA's JPL website about how mission teams are able to calculate the trajectories (and by extension the position) of spacecraft at faraway distances. However, I was curious if it was possible for a spacecraft equipped with reasonable instrumentation (such as those found on any previous spacecraft design, or feasible planned design) to determine the distance to a target astronomical body.

For example, suppose a spacecraft in orbit around the sun needed to determine the distance between itself and another body relatively far away (up to 5AU). Could the craft do this with, say, a radar beam aimed at the target body?

Edit: I'm going to make the assumption for simplicity that the spacecraft already knows its position and velocity vector with reference to the sun, but that the orbital elements of other known bodies are not already pre-programmed into the craft.


References:

  1. Basics of Space Flight - Section II - Chapter 13 - Spacecraft Navigation | NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory @ California Institute of Technology
  2. Physics Stack Exchange - Can Radio Waves be Formed into a Pencil Beam? | Q: Theodor, A: ptomato
  3. Radio Images of the Solar System | National Radio Astronomy Observatory

I came across this detailed article on NASA's JPL website about how mission teams are able to calculate the trajectories (and by extension the position) of spacecraft at faraway distances. However, I was curious if it was possible for a spacecraft equipped with reasonable instrumentation (such as those found on any previous spacecraft design, or feasible planned design) to determine the distance to a target astronomical body.

For example, suppose a spacecraft in orbit around the sun needed to determine the distance between itself and another body relatively far away (up to 5AU). Could the craft do this with, say, a radar beam aimed at the target body?


References:

  1. Basics of Space Flight - Section II - Chapter 13 - Spacecraft Navigation | NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory @ California Institute of Technology

I came across this detailed article on NASA's JPL website about how mission teams are able to calculate the trajectories (and by extension the position) of spacecraft at faraway distances. However, I was curious if it was possible for a spacecraft equipped with reasonable instrumentation (such as those found on any previous spacecraft design, or feasible planned design) to determine the distance to a target astronomical body.

For example, suppose a spacecraft in orbit around the sun needed to determine the distance between itself and another body relatively far away (up to 5AU). Could the craft do this with, say, a radar beam aimed at the target body?

Edit: I'm going to make the assumption for simplicity that the spacecraft already knows its position and velocity vector with reference to the sun, but that the orbital elements of other known bodies are not already pre-programmed into the craft.


References:

  1. Basics of Space Flight - Section II - Chapter 13 - Spacecraft Navigation | NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory @ California Institute of Technology
  2. Physics Stack Exchange - Can Radio Waves be Formed into a Pencil Beam? | Q: Theodor, A: ptomato
  3. Radio Images of the Solar System | National Radio Astronomy Observatory
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