Systematic errors in SLR data and their impact on the ILRS products

Luceri, V., M. Pirri, J. Rodriguez, G. Appleby, E. C. Pavlis, and H. Müller (2019), Systematic errors in SLR data and their impact on the ILRS products, Journal of Geodesy, 93, 2357-2366, doi:10.1007/s00190-019-01319-w.

The satellite laser ranging (SLR) technique has the potential to make extremely precise measurements to retroreflector arrays on orbiting satellites, with normal point range precision at a level of 1 mm for the core tracking stations of the International Laser Ranging Service (ILRS). The main limitation to achieving a similar level of range accuracy is the presence of uncorrected systematic errors, which can be attributed to various sources at the stations (e.g., calibration and/or synchronization procedures, hardware malfunctioning, nonlinearities in the time-of-flight measurement devices), as well as to modeling deficiencies, especially in the ability to refer the range measurements to the center of mass of the spacecraft. The ILRS has always been active in adopting rigorous procedures to detect and remove systematic errors from the data: a group of ILRS analysis centers routinely performs data quality control a few hours after data acquisition; the ILRS Analysis Standing Committee (ASC) is in charge of long-term monitoring and characterization of systematic errors in the observations used for the ILRS products; a Quality Control Board was established in 2015 to address SLR systems’ biases and other data issues. In particular, the ASC is devoting efforts on an investigation of an alternative approach whereby a simultaneous estimation of site coordinates and range biases provides station positions that are in principle free of systematic errors. Results using this approach have shown a significant impact on the realization of the TRF, in particular by reducing the existing scale offset between the VLBI and SLR solutions and reaching a closer agreement with the ITRF2014 scale. This paper outlines the work that continues to be done to improve these products and in particular focuses on new research to evaluate rigorously any impact on the strength of coordinate solutions and geophysical inferences when systematic range errors are determined simultaneously with reference frame parameters. Future procedures for handling systematic errors will be informed by the outcome of the current investigations.

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Research Program: 
Earth Surface & Interior Program (ESI)
Space Geodesy Project