With the GRACE mission under way and the GOCE mission well along in the design process, detailed questions concerning the type of future mission that may follow them have arisen. It is generally agreed that determining the time variations in the Earth's gravity field with as high spatial and temporal resolution as is feasible will be the main driver for such a mission. The possible use of laser heterodyne measurements between separate satellites in such a mission has been discussed by a number of people. The first suggestion of emphasizing time variation measurements in a laser mission was the TIDES concept presented in 1992 by Colombo and Chao. Then, in 2000, a GRACE Follow-On mission using laser measurements between two drag-free satellites was discussed by Watkins el al. (2000).
More recently, the possibility of utilizing laser measurements between more than two satellites in order to determine two or more components of the gravity gradient tensor simultaneously has been proposed by Balmino. This approach may be desirable in order to reduce the aliasing of time variations between geopotential terms of different degree and order, as well as to improve the resolution in longitude, despite the cost of the additional satellites. In this paper, we discuss specific possible mission geometries for measuring the two diagonal in-plane components of the gravity gradient tensor simultaneously. This could be done, for example, by laser heterodyne measurements between two pairs of satellites in coplanar and nearly polar orbits.
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