The GPS flight experiment on the High Earth Orbit (HEO) AMSAT-OSCAR 40 (AO-40) spacecraft was activated for a period of approximately six weeks between 25 September and 2 November, 2001, and the initial results have exciting implications for using GPS as a low-cost orbit determination sensor for future HEO missions. AO-40, an amateur radio satellite launched November 16, 2000, is currently in a low inclination, 1000 by 58,800 km altitude orbit. Although the GPS receiver was not initialized in any way, it regularly returned GPS observations from points all around the orbit. Raw signal to noise levels as high as 9 AMUs (Trimble Amplitude Measurement Units) or approximately 48 dB-Hz have been recorded at apogee, when the spacecraft was close to 60,000 km in altitude. On several occasions when the receiver was below the GPS constellation (below 20,000 krn altitude), observations were reported for GPS satellites tracked through side lobe transmissions. Although the receiver has not returned any point solutions, there has been at least one occasion when four satellites were tracked simultaneously, and this short arc of data was used to compute point solutions after the fact. These results are encouraging, especially considering the spacecraft is currently in a spin-stabilized attitude mode that narrows the effective field of view of the receiving antennas and adversely affects GPS tracking. Already AO-40 has demonstrated the feasibility of recording GPS observations in HEO using an unaided receiver. Furthermore, it is providing important information about the characteristics of GPS signals received by a spacecraft in a HEO, which has long been of interest to many in the GPS community. Based on the data returned so far, the tracking performance is expected to improve when the spacecraft is transitioned to a three axis stabilized, nadir pointing attitude in Summer, 2002.
Aircraft Communications and Navigation
25th Annual AAS Guidance and Control Conference; Feb 06, 2002 - Feb 10, 2002; Breckenridge, CO; United States