The next images, I’m comparing the data using my ephemeris in the upper side and Horizons ephemeris in the lower side. Remember that Horizons dont give data for planetary probes, and are using the data of the planet that is orbiting the planet.
Data for Mars Express
As you can apreciate, in the upper side, the range calculated using SPICE and the mission kernels is smaller than the range of the MARS calculated by Horizons. Then the MEX space probe not is eclipsed by the planet and then detectatble for our stations in the earth! Check the difference of 60 KHz in the predicted frecuency and doppler too.
Data for Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter
Now the inverse case, the MRO probe is more away from the earth, then the probe is eclipsed by the planet.
Another issue observed is a small position difference from JPL/Horizons to my ephemerris using SPICE. It happend, because JPL/Horizons uses TDB as time reference and I’m using UTC. Then, exists a difference of few secconds produced by the leap seconds.
As I was write in my last post, one of the challenges of the amateur-DSN stations is get the ephemeris of the space probes to get the position and deldot for the doppler. JPL Horizons helps, but dont give info about the planetary space probes. How solve it? The solution is use the same data and tools that are using the mission control 😉 Every mission, have a dataset called kernel that contains info about position, instruments and clock onboard, mission operations, etc… this data is public and is controlled by NASA / NAIF and can be obtenied from here.
JPL / NAIF website
The Nasa NAIF, proces a toolkit called SPICE to use this data. This toolkit is available in a lot of programming languages and have a good documentation. Using a small piece of code from Achim Vollhardt DH2VA that he was send-me in 2006 and after some years googling a lot, finally I build my own planetary probes ephemeris generator.
Spice tookit code
In the next post the results…
One of the challenges of the amateur-DSN stations to track planetary and solar system space-probes is the position and frecuency accuracy. Currently all the stations are using the ephemeris provided by the JPL Horizons system. This is a cool system and can be used online using telnet, using a web interface or via email and provide-us the position, range and deldot of the select target, then using this data can track easy the probes and calculate the doppler.
Due that the JPL Horizons is a service for the main public basically for amateurs and space anthussiastas, they can not provide ephemeris for probes or missions that are orbiting a planet because this kind of missions not are static and depends of the stage of the mission.
The solution provided by Horizons is track the planet is orbiting the probe, for example to track MRO, MEX and MO have to track Mars. It works because the position difference is minimal, a typical difference of less of 0.05 deg and it not makes a sense in our small dishes. The amateur-DSN members are detecting space propbes that are orbiting a planet during years with good results, but we have some troubles like taht we dont know when the probe is eclipsed by the planet and, and we dont know the exact frequency where is the probe, because the probe and planet have a differnt deldot. Now I’m working in generate my own ephemeris, to get the data of the probes that are orbiting planets.
A interesting issue about Horizons that I discovered recently is that dont give the data in UTC time, it gives the data in Barycentric Dynamical Time.