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Research group | Next Generation Geodesy Missions

Hydroxy-catalysis bonded interferometer prototype ready for testing. Photo: Marina Dehne

Observation of the Earth’s gravitational field on a global scale with high precision and resolution has been successfully demonstrated by satellite geodesy missions such as CHAMP (Challenging Minisatellite Payload), GRACE (Gravity Recovery And Climate Experiment) and GOCE (Gravity Field and Steady-State Ocean Circulation Explorer). These observations are used in many branches of geosciences. The Long-term monitoring of changes in the earth’s gravity field is important for understanding of many geophysical processes, for example the global water cycle.

These missions use different techniques to map tiny variations in the earth’s gravity across the globe. For example the GRACE mission uses microwave ranging to measure the distance changes between two satellites in low earth orbit separated by 200 kilometres. Ultimately, to improve the precision and resolution of future gravity field missions, improved sensor technology will be required. Inter-satellite ranging precision could be improved by using a laser interferometric ranging system.

The Next Generation Geodesy Missions group works on the development of laser interferometry for future satellite gravimetry missions based on inter-satellite ranging. This is inherently an interdisciplinary field of research and the group collaborates with other QUEST members through the Task Group “Next Generation Gravity Field Missions” and a number of external partners. The group forms part of the space interferometry section at the Albert-Einstein-Institut in Hannover and works closely with the research group, which develops related technology for LISA (Laser Interferometer Space Antenna).