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GOCE: precise orbit determination for the entire mission


The Gravity field and steady-state Ocean Circulation Explorer (GOCE) was the first Earth explorer core mission of the European Space Agency. It was launched on March 17, 2009 into a Sun-synchronous dusk-dawn orbit and re-entered into the Earth’s atmosphere on November 11, 2013. The satellite altitude was between 255 and 225 km for the measurement phases. The European GOCE Gravity consortium is responsible for the Level 1b to Level 2 data processing in the frame of the GOCE High-level processing facility (HPF). The Precise Science Orbit (PSO) is one Level 2 product, which was produced under the responsibility of the Astronomical Institute of the University of Bern within the HPF. This PSO product has been continuously delivered during the entire mission. Regular checks guaranteed a high consistency and quality of the orbits. A correlation between solar activity, GPS data availability and quality of the orbits was found. The accuracy of the kinematic orbit primarily suffers from this. Improvements in modeling the range corrections at the retro-reflector array for the SLR measurements were made and implemented in the independent SLR validation for the GOCE PSO products. The satellite laser ranging (SLR) validation finally states an orbit accuracy of 2.42 cm for the kinematic and 1.84 cm for the reduced-dynamic orbits over the entire mission. The common-mode accelerations from the GOCE gradiometer were not used for the official PSO product, but in addition to the operational HPF work a study was performed to investigate to which extent common-mode accelerations improve the reduced-dynamic orbit determination results. The accelerometer data may be used to derive realistic constraints for the empirical accelerations estimated for the reduced-dynamic orbit determination, which already improves the orbit quality. On top of that the accelerometer data may further improve the orbit quality if realistic constraints and state-of-the-art background models such as gravity field and ocean tide models are used for the reduced-dynamic orbit determination.

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This work was partly performed in the frame of the GOCE High-level Processing Facility (HPF), which is funded by ESA. The support of ESA is gratefully acknowledged. The activities of the CODE analysis center of the IGS provide the basis for our work. CODE is a joint venture of AIUB, Swiss Federal Office of Topography (swisstopo), Wabern, Switzerland, the German Federal Office of Cartography and Geodesy (BKG), Frankfurt a. Main, Germany, and the Institut für Astronomische and Physikalische Geodäsie (IAPG), Technische Universität München, Germany.

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Correspondence to Heike Bock.

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Bock, H., Jäggi, A., Beutler, G. et al. GOCE: precise orbit determination for the entire mission. J Geod 88, 1047–1060 (2014).

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  • GOCE
  • Precise orbit determination
  • GPS
  • Accelerometer
  • SLR
  • Solar activity