Celestial mechanics

, Volume 13, Issue 4, pp 429-447

First online:

A possible experiment with two counter-orbiting drag-free satellites to obtain a new test of Einstein's general theory of relativity and improved measurements in geodesy

  • R. A. Van PattenAffiliated withDepartment of Aeronautics and Astronautics Guidance and Control Laboratory, Stanford Unive
  • , C. W. F. EverittAffiliated withW. W. Hansen Laboratories of Physics, Stanford University

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In 1918, J. Lense and H. Thirring calculated that a moon in orbit around a massive rotating planet would experience a nodal dragging effect due to general relativity. We describe an experiment to measure this effect by means of two counter-orbiting drag-free satellites in polar orbit about the earth. For a 2 1/2 year experiment, the measurement should approach an accuracy of 1%. An independent measurement of the geodetic precession of the orbit plane due to the motion about the sun may also be possible to about 10% accuracy. In addition to precision tracking data from existing ground stations, satellite-to-satellite Doppler data are taken at points of passing near the poles to yield an accurate measurement of the separation distance between the two satellites. New geophysical information on both earth harmonics and tidal effects is inherent in this polar ranging data.