Original Article

GPS Solutions

, Volume 12, Issue 3, pp 187-198

First online:

Precision real-time navigation of LEO satellites using global positioning system measurements

  • Oliver MontenbruckAffiliated withGerman Space Operations Center, Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt Email author 
  • , Pere Ramos-BoschAffiliated withResearch Group of Astronomy and Geomatics, Technical University of Catalonia

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Continued advancements in remote sensing technology along with a trend towards highly autonomous spacecraft provide a strong motivation for accurate real-time navigation of satellites in low Earth orbit (LEO). Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) sensors nowadays enable a continuous tracking and provide low-noise radiometric measurements onboard a user spacecraft. Following the deactivation of Selective Availability a representative real-time positioning accuracy of 10 m is presently achieved by spaceborne global positioning system (GPS) receivers on LEO satellites. This accuracy can notably be improved by use of dynamic orbit determination techniques. Besides a filtering of measurement noise and other short-term errors, these techniques enable the processing of ambiguous measurements such as carrier phase or code-carrier combinations. In this paper a reference algorithm for real-time onboard orbit determination is described and tested with GPS measurements from various ongoing space missions covering an altitude range of 400–800 km. A trade-off between modeling effort and achievable accuracy is performed, which takes into account the limitations of available onboard processors and the restricted upload capabilities. Furthermore, the benefits of different measurements types and the available real-time ephemeris products are assessed. Using GPS broadcast ephemerides a real-time position accuracy of about 0.5 m (3D rms) is feasible with dual-frequency carrier phase measurements. Slightly inferior results (0.6–1 m) are achieved with single-frequency code-carrier combinations or dual-frequency code. For further performance improvements the use of more accurate real-time GPS ephemeris products is mandatory. By way of example, it is shown that the TDRSS Augmentation Service for Satellites (TASS) offers the potential for 0.1–0.2 m real-time navigation accuracies onboard LEO satellites.


Real-time navigation Orbit determination GPS LEO satellites