Absolute and relative orbit determination for the CHAMP/GRACE constellation

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Precise orbit determination was investigated for a satellite constellation comprised of two different missions, the CHAllenging Minisatellite Payload (CHAMP) satellite and the Gravity Recovery And Climate Experiment (GRACE) twin satellites. The orbital planes of these two missions aligned closely during March to May 2005, allowing precise baseline determinations between the associated three satellites based on their onboard BlackJack Global Positioning System (GPS) receivers. The GRACE-A/B satellites fly in tandem formation with a baseline of around 220 km, whereas the baselines between CHAMP and the GRACE tandem vary from about 110 to 7500 km during 24-h orbital arcs centered around the points of closest approaches. A number of factors had to be dealt with for orbit determinations, including the cross-talk between the CHAMP GPS main navigation and occultation antennas, the different levels of non-gravitational accelerations, and the rapidly changing geometry that complicates the fixing of integer ambiguities for the GPS carrier-phase observations. Quality assessments of the orbit solutions were based on comparisons with Satellite Laser Ranging (SLR) observations, best orbit solutions had a precision of typically 1.7–2.3 cm. Consistency checks between reduced-dynamic and kinematic orbit solutions were done. For the GRACE baselines, the reduced-dynamic/kinematic baseline consistency was typically better than 1 cm, with an ambiguity fixing success rate of around 94%. The agreement with the K/Ka-Band Radar Ranging (KBR) measurements was about 0.6 mm. For the CHAMP/GRACE pairs, the reduced-dynamic/kinematic baseline consistency varied from 0.5 to 2.5 cm, where better consistency was obtained for shorter arcs.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3816-3834
Number of pages19
JournalAdvances in Space Research
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - 2019


  • Antenna pattern
  • High-dynamic baseline
  • Integer ambiguity
  • Precise baseline determination
  • Precise orbit determination
  • Satellite constellation

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