Revisiting the light time correction in gravimetric missions like GRACE and GRACE follow-on

authored by
Yihao Yan, Vitali Müller, Gerhard Heinzel, Min Zhong

The gravity field maps of the satellite gravimetry missions Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) and GRACE Follow-On are derived by means of precise orbit determination. The key observation is the biased inter-satellite range, which is measured primarily by a K-Band Ranging system (KBR) in GRACE and GRACE Follow-On. The GRACE Follow-On satellites are additionally equipped with a Laser Ranging Interferometer (LRI), which provides measurements with lower noise compared to the KBR. The biased range of KBR and LRI needs to be converted for gravity field recovery into an instantaneous range, i.e. the biased Euclidean distance between the satellites’ center-of-mass at the same time. One contributor to the difference between measured and instantaneous range arises due to the nonzero travel time of electro-magnetic waves between the spacecraft. We revisit the calculation of the light time correction (LTC) from first principles considering general relativistic effects and state-of-the-art models of Earth’s potential field. The novel analytical expressions for the LTC of KBR and LRI can circumvent numerical limitations of the classical approach. The dependency of the LTC on geopotential models and on the parameterization is studied, and afterwards the results are compared against the LTC provided in the official datasets of GRACE and GRACE Follow-On. It is shown that the new approach has a significantly lower noise, well below the instrument noise of current instruments, especially relevant for the LRI, and even if used with kinematic orbit products. This allows calculating the LTC accurate enough even for the next generation of gravimetric missions.

Institute of Gravitation Physics
External Organisation(s)
Huazhong University of Science and Technology
Laboratory of Dynamic Geodesy Chinese Academy of Sciences
Sun Yat-Sen University
Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics (Albert Einstein Institute)
Journal of Geodesy
Publication date
Publication status
Peer reviewed
ASJC Scopus subject areas
Geophysics, Geochemistry and Petrology, Computers in Earth Sciences
Electronic version(s) (Access: Open)