Journal of Geodesy

, Volume 86, Issue 2, pp 81–98 | Cite as

Design considerations for a dedicated gravity recovery satellite mission consisting of two pairs of satellites

Original Article


Future satellite missions dedicated to measuring time-variable gravity will need to address the concern of temporal aliasing errors; i.e., errors due to high-frequency mass variations. These errors have been shown to be a limiting error source for future missions with improved sensors. One method of reducing them is to fly multiple satellite pairs, thus increasing the sampling frequency of the mission. While one could imagine a system architecture consisting of dozens of satellite pairs, this paper explores the more economically feasible option of optimizing the orbits of two pairs of satellites. While the search space for this problem is infinite by nature, steps have been made to reduce it via proper assumptions regarding some parameters and a large number of numerical simulations exploring appropriate ranges for other parameters. A search space originally consisting of 15 variables is reduced to two variables with the utmost impact on mission performance: the repeat period of both pairs of satellites (shown to be near-optimal when they are equal to each other), as well as the inclination of one of the satellite pairs (the other pair is assumed to be in a polar orbit). To arrive at this conclusion, we assume circular orbits, repeat groundtracks for both pairs of satellites, a 100-km inter-satellite separation distance, and a minimum allowable operational satellite altitude of 290 km based on a projected 10-year mission lifetime. Given the scientific objectives of determining time-variable hydrology, ice mass variations, and ocean bottom pressure signals with higher spatial resolution, we find that an optimal architecture consists of a polar pair of satellites coupled with a pair inclined at 72°, both in 13-day repeating orbits. This architecture provides a 67% reduction in error over one pair of satellites, in addition to reducing the longitudinal striping to such a level that minimal post-processing is required, permitting a substantial increase in the spatial resolution of the gravity field products. It should be emphasized that given different sets of scientific objectives for the mission, or a different minimum allowable satellite altitude, different architectures might be selected.


Time variable gravity GRACE Temporal aliasing errors Constellations Satellite geodesy 


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Colorado Center for Astrodynamics ResearchUniversity of Colorado at BoulderBoulderUSA
  2. 2.NASA Goddard Space Flight CenterPlanetary Geodynamics LaboratoryGreenbeltUSA

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