Orbit determination and estimation of non-gravitational accelerations for the GOCE reentry phase

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During its reentry phase from 21 October to 10 November 2013, the European Space Agency (ESA) Gravity field and steady-state Ocean Circulation Explorer (GOCE) continued to provide high-quality, dual-frequency observations by its Global Positioning System (GPS) receiver, star tracker and accelerometers. This resulted in a unique data set for testing high-precision orbit determination at altitudes down to as low as 137 km. In addition, the accelerometers kept working down to this altitude as well, be it with growing periods during which they were saturated. This made it possible to test the capability of estimating non-gravitational accelerations in high drag environments by GPS. A reduced-dynamic orbit determination based on an extended Kalman filter approach was adopted to cope with the estimation of the orbit parameters, including the exponentially growing non-gravitational accelerations. The orbits were found to be consistent with Satellite Laser Ranging (SLR) observations at a level of just a few centimeters for a few passes collected up to 2 November 2013. Also orbit overlap comparisons and comparisons with external orbit solutions indicate a 3-dimensional orbit quality at the dm level or better. In addition, high correlations were found between the estimated non-gravitational accelerations and those from the accelerometers during all periods when they were not saturated: typically close to 0.99 for the X axis of the gradiometer reference frame (close to the flight direction), for which the non-gravitational acceleration signal is by far the largest. High correlations were found as well for the Y axis (0.68–0.96) and Z axis (0.61–0.93), predominantly aligned with respectively the cross-track and height direction. The highest correlations were found for the last days, as long as the accelerometers were not saturated.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1840-1853
Number of pages14
JournalAdvances in Space Research
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2016


  • Accelerometer observations
  • Empirical accelerations
  • GOCE reentry phase
  • Kalman filter
  • Non-gravitational accelerations
  • Precise orbit determination

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