Combination of altimetry data from different satellite missions
Substantial altimetry datasets collected by different satellites have only become available during the past five years, but the future will bring a variety of new altimetry missions, both parallel and consecutive in time. The characteristics of each produced dataset vary with the different orbital heights and inclinations of the spacecraft, as well as with the technical properties of the radar instrument. An integral analysis of datasets with different properties offers advantages both in terms of data quantity and data quality. This thesis is concerned with the development of the means for such integral analysis, in particular for dynamic solutions in which precise orbits for the satellites are computed simultaneously. The first half of the thesis discusses the theory and numerical implementation of dynamic multi-satellite altimetry analysis. The most important aspect of this analysis is the application of dual satellite altimetry crossover points as a bi-directional tracking data type in simultaneous orbit solutions. The central problem is that the spatial and temporal distributions of the crossovers are in conflict with the time-organised nature of traditional solution methods. Their application to the adjustment of the orbits of both satellites involved in a dual crossover therefore requires several fundamental changes of the classical least-squares prediction/correction methods. The second part of the thesis applies the developed numerical techniques to the problems of precise orbit computation and gravity field adjustment, using the altimetry datasets of ERS-1 and TOPEX/Poseidon. Although the two datasets can be considered less compatible that those of planned future satellite missions, the obtained results adequately illustrate the merits of a simultaneous solution technique. In particular, the geographically correlated orbit error is partially observable from a dataset consisting of crossover differences between two sufficiently different altimetry datasets, while being unobservable from the analysis of altimetry data of both satellites individually. This error signal, which has a substantial gravity-induced component, can be employed advantageously in simultaneous solutions for the two satellites in which also the harmonic coefficients of the gravity field model are estimated.