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Three Decades of Precision Orbit Determination Progress, Achievements, Future Challenges and its Vital Contribution to Oceanography and Climate Research

Scott Luthcke(1) , David Rowlands(1) , Frank Lemoine(1) , Nikita Zelensky(2) , Brian Beckley(3) , Steve Klosko(2) , and Doug Chinn(2)

(1) NASA GSFC, Code 697, Greenbelt, MD 20771, United States
(2) SGT Inc., 7701 Greenbelt Rd., Greenbelt, MD 20770, United States
(3) Raytheon , 1616 McCormick Dr., Upper Marlboro, MD 20774, United States


Although satellite altimetry has been around for thirty years, the last fifteen beginning with the launch of TOPEX/Poseidon (TP) have yielded an abundance of significant results including: monitoring of ENSO events, detection of internal tides, determination of accurate global tides, unambiguous delineation of Rossby waves and their propagation characteristics, accurate determination of geostrophic currents, and a multi-decadal time series of mean sea level trend and dynamic ocean topography variability. While the high level of accuracy being achieved is a result of both instrument maturity and the quality of models and correction algorithms applied to the data, improving the quality of the Climate Data Records produced from altimetry is highly dependent on concurrent progress being made in fields such as orbit determination. The precision orbits form the reference frame from which the radar altimeter observations are made. Therefore, the accuracy of the altimetric mapping is limited to a great extent by the accuracy to which a satellite orbit can be computed. The TP mission represents the first time that the radial component of an altimeter orbit was routinely computed with an accuracy of 2-cm. Recently it has been demonstrated that it is possible to compute the radial component of Jason orbits with an accuracy of better than 1-cm. Additionally, still further improvements in TP orbits are being achieved with new techniques and algorithms largely developed from combined Jason and TP data analysis. While these recent POD achievements are impressive, the new accuracies are now revealing subtle systematic orbit error that manifest as both intra and inter annual ocean topography errors. Additionally the construction of inter-decadal time series of climate data records requires the removal of systematic differences across multiple missions. Current and future efforts must focus on the understanding and reduction of these errors in order to generate a complete and consistent time series of improved orbits across multiple missions and decades required for the most stringent climate-related research. This presentation discusses the POD progress and achievements made over nearly three decades, and presents the future challenges, goals and their impact on altimetric derived ocean sciences.


Workshop presentation


                 Last modified: 07.10.03