Satellite laser ranging and the ETALON Geodetic satellites
The technique of Satellite Laser Ranging is today a mature, important tool with applications in many area of geodynamics, geodesy and satellite dynamics. A global network of some 40 stations regularly obtains range observations with sub-cm precision to more than twelve orbiting spacecraft. At such levels of precision it is important to minimise potential sources of range bias in the observations, and part of the thesis is a study of subtle effects caused by the extended nature of the arrays of retro-reflectors on the satellites. We develop models that give a precise correction of the range measurements to the centres of mass of the geodetic satellites Lageos and Etalon, appropriate to a variety of different ranging systems, and use the Etalon values, which were not determined during pre-launch tests, in an extended orbital analysis. We have fitted continuous 2.5 year orbits to range observations of the Etalons from the global network of stations, and analysed the results by mapping the range residuals from these orbits into equivalent corrections to orbital elements over short time intervals. From these residuals we have detected and studied large un-modelled along-track accelerations associated with periods during which the satellites are undergoing eclipse by the Earth's shadow. We also find that the eccentricity residuals are significantly different for the two satellites, with Etalon-2 undergoing a year-long eccentricity anomaly similar in character to that experienced at intervals by Lageos-1. The nodal residuals show that the satellites define a very stable reference frame for Earth rotation determination, with very little drift-off during the 2.5 year period. We show that an analysis of more than about eight years of tracking data would be required to derive a significant value for 2. The reference frame defined by the station coordinates derived from the analyses shows very good agreement with that of ITRF93.