Geodetic satellites are designed to look and act as point-mass objects in order to allow for the most precise computation of their orbits. Big or small, cannonball-shaped, with as small an area-to-mass ratio as possible (to minimize the effect of non-conservative forces), they are passive objects studded with corner-cube retroreflectors (CCRs). Used as targets by Satellite Laser Ranging (SLR) ground systems, these satellites with their very precise orbits, provide very accurate, unambiguous distance measurements. They contribute to geodesy with positioning, determining the shape and size of Earth; and the variations of the terrestrial gravity field. The Lageos satellites are the basis of the ILRS contribution to the International Terrestrial Reference Frame (ITRF). Other geodetic satellites such as Etalon, Starlette, Stella etc are now being added to further strengthen the reference frame.
Remote Sensing Missions
Remote sensing satellites carry payloads that measure structure and ongoing processes on the Earth using electronic and optical sensors (altimeters, gradiometers, satellite to satellite tracking, etc.) These systems measure the environment and monitor change on a global basis. Altimeters measure the topography of the ocean and ice surface to monitor changes on sea level and ice volume. Gravity field measurements help us understand the structure and dynamic processes within the Earth including changes surface hydrology, mass shifts, etc. Atmospheric and Ionospheric sensors help us understand the structure of these media and the dynamic process within. SLR is used to calibrate, validate, and monitor many of these systems and is a contributor to POD. SLR has also provided full POD in several cases when the radio systems have failed.
Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS)
GNSS satellites are launched in constellations to provide accurate positioning and velocity for land, sea, air and space applications. Ground surveys today are based on GNSS and nearly every vehicle has or will have GNSS to monitor its motion and plan its future path. Science has adopted GNSS as a fundamental tool for measuring ground motions, Earth rotation, ionospheric and atmospheric structure (using occultation), and a host of other uses. SLR is used to calibrate the GNSS orbits and the combination of GNSS and SLR will be used to distribute the reference frame for users worldwide. Retroreflectors have been placed on satellites in the GPS, GLONASS, Compass, and Galileo (GIOVE) constellations. The apparent trend is to place arrays on many more. New complexes underway in India and Japan will also include arrays.
Experimental satellites are a catchall for demonstration payloads that do not fit easily in any one of the other mission classifications. These satellites can often be in relatively low altitude orbits. RadioAstron is an exception. Some of these satellites have only SLR for tracking to save space and power. These satellites are often small in size and weight, irregularly shaped, and low cost. Some examples include TIPS, Starshine, Reflector, LRE, ANDE, and RadioAstron. The ILRS has thus established a CCR array standard which provides guidance in designing the correct array for each application.
SpinSat re-enters Earth's atmosphere - NRL/Jake Griffiths has informed the ILRS that SpinSat re-entered late on March 11, 2017. The last track of the satellite was received that day at 22:39 UTC from a Space Surveillance Network station located in the UK. NRL has expressed its gratitude to the ILRS for supporting the mission.
New ILRS AAC at IGIG - The ILRS is pleased to welcome the Wroclaw University of Enviromental and Life Sciences (WUELS), Institute of Geodesy and Geoinformatics (IGIG) as an ILRS Associate Analysis Center (AAC). Krzysztof Sosnica’s group at the Institute is generating scientific products based on the SLR observations to new GNSS systems on the operational basis. IGIG generates daily reports that include a comparison between IGS MGEX orbits of GLONASS, Galileo, BeiDou MEO, BeiDou IGSO and QZSS satellites and SLR observations collected by a global network of ILRS stations.
ILRS survey of user tracking needs - Many stations in the ILRS network are nearly saturated in their tracking schedule. The ILRS is presently assessing its tracking needs to try to maximize its utility. We recently sent out an email to various ILRS users and groups to ask for user needs. If you want your needs to be considered, and did not receive an email invitation, please send an email to Erricos Pavlis
(epavlis @ umbc.edu). Once we compile the results, the ILRS plans to make revisions to its tracking list based on users needs. Therefore, user input is critical. The survey should not take you more than 5-10 minutes to complete, depending on your level of involvement with SLR data. Thank you for supporting the ILRS!