Satellite Ranging Observatories

August 22, 2022 – 09:35 am

Diagram showing a portion of the Earth as viewed from space. It shows a telescope sending a laser pulse to a satellite in orbit around the Earth and the signal returning to the telescope.Satellite Laser Ranging

Satellite Laser Ranging (SLR) as its name suggests ranges (or measures distance) to Earth orbiting satellites using a powerful laser to detect a satellite's variation from its predicted orbit. It is uniquely suited to accurately determining the variation of the Earth's centre of mass, along with the orbit parameters of satellites orbiting the Earth.

Data from a global network of SLR stations are used to estimate the orbital parameters of satellites which revolve around the Earth's centre of mass. Therefore the position of the Earth's geocentre, the origin of the global reference frame, can be monitored through time.

Birds eye view of the Orroral SLR Observatory. It is a dome shaped building approximately 15 m wide with a telescope visible through the top. The Observatory is built on rock in a clearing within bushland.SLR has become an important geodetic instrument to be used for the establishment of an accurate global geodetic infrastructure and Earth monitoring science.

SLR contributes to:

  • monitoring Earth rotation and polar motion to provide the relationship with The International Celestial Reference Frame (CRF)
  • modelling the temporal and spatial variation of the Earth's gravity field
  • determination of the Ocean and Earth tides
  • monitoring tectonic plates and horizontal and vertical crustal deformation
  • orbit determination for spaceborne altimeters and radar measurements for studies in global ocean circulation and changes in ice masses.

The Geoscience Australia Lunar and Satellite Laser Ranging program began in March 1973 with the signing of a NASA-Division of National Mapping agreement under the USA-Australia Hornig Treaty for cooperation in Science.

Orroral SLR Observatory

Orroral Satellite Laser Ranging Observatory

The then Lunar Laser Ranging (LLR) facility at the Orroral Observatory located in the Namadgi National Park, 70 kilometres south of the Australian Capital Territory, was finally constructed and occupied in March 1975. During the period 1978-1980 LLR was the primary activity at the Orroral, which closed on 31 October 1998 and was replaced by a new facility located on Mount Stromlo.

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