Impact of Swarm GPS receiver updates on POD performance

Jose Van Den Ijssel*, B. Forte, O Montenbruck

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

39 Citations (Scopus)
23 Downloads (Pure)


The Swarm satellites are equipped with state-of-the-art Global Positioning System (GPS) receivers, which are used for the precise geolocation of the magnetic and electric field instruments, as well as for the determination of the Earth's gravity field, the total electron content and low-frequency thermospheric neutral densities. The onboard GPS receivers deliver high-quality data with an almost continuous data rate. However, the receivers show a slightly degraded performance when flying over the geomagnetic poles and the geomagnetic equator, due to ionospheric scintillation. Furthermore, with only eight channels available for dual-frequency tracking, the amount of collected GPS tracking data is relatively low compared with various other missions. Therefore, several modifications have been implemented to the Swarm GPS receivers. To optimise the amount of collected GPS data, the GPS antenna elevation mask has slowly been reduced from 10° to 2°. To improve the robustness against ionospheric scintillation, the bandwidths of the GPS receiver tracking loops have been widened. Because these modifications were first implemented on Swarm-C, their impact can be assessed by a comparison with the close flying Swarm-A satellite. This shows that both modifications have a positive impact on the GPS receiver performance. The reduced elevation mask increases the amount of GPS tracking data by more than 3 %, while the updated tracking loops lead to around 1.3 % more observations and a significant reduction in tracking losses due to severe equatorial scintillation. The additional observations at low elevation angles increase the average noise of the carrier phase observations, but nonetheless slightly improve the resulting reduced-dynamic and kinematic orbit accuracy as shown by independent satellite laser ranging (SLR) validation. The more robust tracking loops significantly reduce the large carrier phase observation errors at the geomagnetic poles and along the geomagnetic equator and do not degrade the observations at midlatitudes. SLR validation indicates that the updated tracking loops also improve the reduced-dynamic and kinematic orbit accuracy. It is expected that the Swarm gravity field recovery will benefit from the improved kinematic orbit quality and potentially also from the expected improvement of the kinematic baseline determination and the anticipated reduction in the systematic gravity field errors along the geomagnetic equator. Finally, other satellites that carry GPS receivers that encounter similar disturbances might also benefit from this analysis.

Original languageEnglish
Article number68
JournalEarth, Planets and Space
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2016


  • Elevation mask
  • GPS
  • Ionospheric scintillation
  • Precise orbit determination
  • Swarm
  • Tracking loop


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