Intersatellite laser ranging instrument for the GRACE follow-on mission
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- Sheard, B.S., Heinzel, G., Danzmann, K. et al. J Geod (2012) 86: 1083. doi:10.1007/s00190-012-0566-3
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The Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) has demonstrated that low–low satellite-to-satellite tracking enables monitoring the time variations of the Earth’s gravity field on a global scale, in particular those caused by mass-transport within the hydrosphere. Due to the importance of long-term continued monitoring of the variations of the Earth’s gravitational field and the limited lifetime of GRACE, a follow-on mission is currently planned to be launched in 2017. In order to minimise risk and the time to launch, the follow-on mission will be basically a rebuild of GRACE with microwave ranging as the primary instrument for measuring changes of the intersatellite distance. Laser interferometry has been proposed as a method to achieve improved ranging precision for future GRACE-like missions and is therefore foreseen to be included as demonstrator experiment in the follow-on mission now under development. This paper presents the top-level architecture of an interferometric laser ranging system designed to demonstrate the technology which can also operate in parallel with the microwave ranging system of the GRACE follow-on mission.