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Published 1986 | Published
Book Section - Chapter Open

Reference Frame Studies at JPL/Caltech


In recent years, a revolution in astronomical position measurements has been taking place with the advent of modern space techniques. These new techniques, which supplement the traditional astrometric measurements, include laser ranging to the moon and artificial satellites, very-long-baseline interferometry (VLBI) of galactic and extra-galactic radio sources and spacecraft, radio tracking of satellites, and radar-ranging and spacecraft tracking during planetary encounters. Impressive accuracies have been achieved and further improvements are forthcoming. Each technique can be expected to establish its own reference frame which is derived from observations of a particular class of objects. The celestial and terrestrial coordinate systems are related through adopted constants and definitions. Contemporary astronomy has led to the development of three principal celestial coordinate systems: the optical frame (FK4/FK5) based on positions of galactic stars; the planetary/lunar ephemeris frame based on the major celestial bodies of the solar system; and the radio frame constructed from observations of extragalactic radio sources (quasars). Each frame is rotated with respect to others; furthermore, the optical frame offset is time variable. It is important that all frames be interconnected and unified. The optical frame is being connected to the radio frame by VLBI observations of radio emitting stars. The radio frame is being tied to the ephemeris frame in several ways – one is via differential VLBI measurements between quasars and planet-orbiting spacecraft.

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© 1986 by the IAU. This paper presents the results of one phase of research carried out at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology sponsored by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

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