Comparative analysis of planetary laser ranging concepts

Wednesday, 17 December 2014
Dominic Dirkx1, Sven Bauer2, Ron Noomen1, Bert L A Vermeersen1 and Pieter N Visser1, (1)Delft University of Technology, Delft, Netherlands, (2)German Aerospace Center DLR Berlin, Planetary Geodesy, Berlin, Germany
Laser ranging is an emerging technology for tracking interplanetary missions, offering improved range accuracy and precision (mm-cm), compared to existing DSN tracking. The ground segment uses existing Satellite Laser Ranging (SLR) technology, whereas the space segment is modified with an active system. In a one-way system, such as that currently being used on the LRO spacecraft (Zuber et al., 2010), only an active detector is required on the spacecraft. For a two-way system, such as that tested by using the laser altimeter system on the MESSENGER spacecraft en route to Mercury (Smith et al., 2006), a laser transmitter system is additionally placed on the space segment, which will asynchronously fire laser pulses towards the ground stations. Although the one-way system requires less hardware, clock errors on both the space and ground segments will accumulate over time, polluting the range measurements. For a two-way system, the range measurements are only sensitive to clock errors integrated over the the two-way light time.

We investigate the performance of both one- and two-way laser range systems by simulating their operation. We generate realizations of clock error time histories from Allan variance profiles, and use them to create range measurement error profiles. We subsequently perform the orbit determination process from this data to quanitfy the system's performance. For our simulations, we use two test cases: a lunar orbiter similar to LRO and a Phobos lander similar to the Phobos Laser Ranging concept (Turyshev et al., 2010). For the lunar orbiter, we include an empirical model for unmodelled non-gravitational accelerations in our truth model to include errors ihe dynamics. We include the estimation of clock parameters over a number of arc lengths for our simulations of the one-way range system and use a variety of state arc durations for the lunar orbiter simulations.

We perform Monte Carlo simulations and generate true error distributions for both missions for various combinations of clock and state arc length. Thereby, we quantify the relative capabilities of the one- and two-way laser range systems. In addition, we study the optimal data analysis strategies for these missions, which we apply for LRO orbit determination. Finally, we compare the performance of the laser ranging systems with typical DSN tracking.