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The Benefit of Accelerometers Based on Cold Atom Interferometry for Future Satellite Gravity Missions

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Geodesy for a Sustainable Earth


Satellite gravity missions, like GRACE and GRACE Follow-On, successfully map the Earth’s gravity field and its change over time. With the addition of the laser ranging interferometer (LRI) to GRACE-FO, a significant improvement over GRACE for inter-satellite ranging was achieved. One of the limiting factors is the accelerometer for measuring the non-gravitational forces acting on the satellite. The classical electrostatic accelerometers are affected by a drift at low frequencies. This drawback can be counterbalanced by adding an accelerometer based on cold atom interferometry (CAI) due to its high long-term stability. The CAI concept has already been successfully demonstrated in ground experiments and is expected to show an even higher sensitivity in space.

In order to investigate the potential of the CAI concept for future satellite gravity missions, a closed-loop simulation is performed in the context of GRACE-FO like missions. The sensitivity of the CAI accelerometer is estimated based on state-of-the-art ground sensors and predictions for space applications. The sensor performance is tested for different scenarios and the benefits to the gravity field solutions are quantitatively evaluated. It is shown that a classical accelerometer aided by CAI technology improves the results of the gravity field recovery especially in reducing the striping effects. The non-gravitational accelerations are modelled using a detailed surface model of a GRACE-like satellite body. This is required for a realistic determination of the variations of the non-gravitational accelerations during one interferometer cycle. It is demonstrated that the estimated error due to this variation is significant. We consider different orbit altitudes and also analyze the effect of drag compensation.

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The results presented here were partially carried out on the cluster system at the Leibniz University of Hannover, Germany. We acknowledge the support by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, German Research Foundation) – Project-ID 434617780 – SFB 1464. A.H. acknowledges the support by the DLR-Institute for Satellite Geodesy and Inertial Sensing. A.K. acknowledges its initial funding by the Ministry of Science and Culture of the German State of Lower Saxony from “Niedersächsisches Vorab”. H.W. acknowledges the funding by the German Research Foundation (DFG) under Germany’s Excellence Strategy – EXC-2123 QuantumFrontiers – 390837967. F.P.d.S. and Q.B. thank CNES for support (QUANTA project).

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Author Contributions

Q.B. and F.P.d.S. provided input for the performance of the atom interferometer. H.W., M.S. and A.K. developed the software. A.K. performed the computations and wrote the first draft of the manuscript. All authors provided critical input to the manuscript and approved the final version.

Data Availability Statement

Datasets generated in this study are available from the corresponding author on reasonable request.

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Correspondence to Annike Knabe .

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Knabe, A. et al. (2022). The Benefit of Accelerometers Based on Cold Atom Interferometry for Future Satellite Gravity Missions. In: Freymueller, J.T., Sánchez, L. (eds) Geodesy for a Sustainable Earth. International Association of Geodesy Symposia, vol 154. Springer, Cham.

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