Use of two-line element data for thermosphere neutral density model calibration

Traditional empirical thermospheric density models are widely used in orbit determination and prediction of low-Earth satellites. Unfortunately, these models often exhibit large density errors of up to around 30\% RMS. Density errors translate into orbit errors, adversely affecting applications such as re-entry operations, manoeuvre planning, collision avoidance and precise orbit determination for geodetic missions. The extensive database of two-line element (TLE) orbit data contains a wealth of information on satellite drag, at a sufficiently high spatial and temporal resolution to allow a calibration of existing neutral density models with a latency of one to two days. In our calibration software, new TLE data for selected objects is converted to satellite drag data on a daily basis. The resulting drag data is then used in a daily adjustment of density model calibration parameters, which modify the output of an existing empirical density model with the aim of increasing its accuracy. Two different calibration schemes have been tested using TLE data for about 50 objects during the year 2000. The schemes involve either height-dependent scale factors to the density or corrections to CIRA-72 model temperatures, which affect the density output based on a physical model. Both schemes have been applied with different spherical harmonic expansions of the parameters in latitude and local solar time. Five TLE objects, varying in perigee altitude between 280 and 530km, were deliberately not used during calibration, in order to provide independent validation. Even with a single daily parameter, the RMS density model error along their tracks can already be reduced from the 30% to the 15% level. Adding additional parameters results in RMS errors lower than 12%.
Year of Publication
Advances in Space Research
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