A telemetry-based ranging scheme was developed in which the downlink ranging signal is eliminated, and the range is computed directly from the downlink telemetry signal. This is the first Deep Space Network (DSN) ranging technology that does not require the spacecraft to transmit a separate ranging signal. By contrast, the evolutionary ranging techniques used over the years by NASA missions, including sequential ranging (transmission of a sequence of sinusoids) and PN-ranging (transmission of a pseudo-noise sequence) — whether regenerative (spacecraft acquires, then regenerates and retransmits a noise-free ranging signal) or transparent (spacecraft feeds the noisy demodulated uplink ranging signal into the downlink phase modulator) — relied on spacecraft power and bandwidth to transmit an explicit ranging signal.

The state of the art in ranging is described in an emerging CCSDS (Consultative Committee for Space Data Systems) standard, in which a pseudo-noise (PN) sequence is transmitted from the ground to the spacecraft, acquired onboard, and the PN sequence is coherently retransmitted back to the ground, where a delay measurement is made between the uplink and downlink signals. In this work, the telemetry signal is aligned with the uplink PN code epoch. The ground station computes the delay between the uplink signal transmission and the received downlink telemetry. Such a computation is feasible because symbol synchronizability is already an integral part of the telemetry design.

Under existing technology, the telemetry signal cannot be used for ranging because its arrival-time information is not coherent with any Earth reference signal. By introducing this coherence, and performing joint telemetry detection and arrival-time estimation on the ground, a high-rate telemetry signal can provide all the precision necessary for spacecraft ranging.

This work was done by Jon Hamkins, Victor A. Vilnrotter, Kenneth S. Andrews, and Shervin Shambayati of Caltech for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. For more information, contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. NPO-47170

NASA Tech Briefs Magazine

This article first appeared in the February, 2011 issue of NASA Tech Briefs Magazine.

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