NASA’s satellite laser ranging systems for the twenty-first century

McGarry, J. F., E. D. Hoffman, J. J. Degnan, J. W. Cheek, C. B. Clarke, I. F. Diegel, H. L. Donovan, J. E. Horvath, M. Marzouk, A. R. Nelson, D. S. Patterson, R. L. Ricklefs, M. D. Shappirio, S. L. Wetzel, and T. W. Zagwodzki (2019), NASA’s satellite laser ranging systems for the twenty-first century, Journal of Geodesy, doi:10.1007/s00190-018-1191-6.

For over 40 years, NASA’s global network of satellite laser ranging (SLR) stations has provided a significant percentage of the global orbital data used to define the International Terrestrial Reference Frame (ITRF). The current NASA legacy network is reaching its end-of-life and a new generation of systems must be ready to take its place. Scientific demands of sub-millimeter precision ranging and the ever-increasing number of tracking targets give aggressive performance requirements to this new generation of systems. Using lessons learned from the legacy systems and the successful development of a prototype station, a new network of SLR stations, called the Space Geodesy Satellite Laser Ranging (SGSLR) systems, is being developed. These will be the state-of-the-art SLR component of NASA’s Space Geodesy Project. Each of SGSLR’s nine subsystems has been designed to produce a robust, kilohertz laser ranging system with 24/7 operational capability and with minimal human intervention. SGSLR’s data must support the aggressive goals of the Global Geodetic Observing System, which are 1 millimeter (mm) position accuracy and 0.1 mm per year stability of the ITRF. This paper will describe the major requirements and accompanying design of the new SGSLR systems, how the systems will be tested, and the expected system performance.

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Earth Surface & Interior Program (ESI)