Precise Onboard Time Synchronization for LEO Satellites

Florian Kunzi and Oliver Montenbruck

Peer Reviewed

Abstract: Onboard time synchronization is an important requirement for a wide range of low Earth orbit (LEO) missions such as altimetry or communication services, and extends to future position, navigation, and timing (PNT) services in LEO. For GNSS-based time synchronization, continuous knowledge about the satellite’s position is required and, eventually, the quality of the position solution defines the timing precision attainable through GNSS measurements. Previous research has shown that real-time GNSS orbit determination of LEO satellites can achieve decimeter-level accuracy. This paper characterizes the performance of GNSS-based real-time clock synchronization in LEO using the satellite Sentinel-6A as a real-world case study. The satellite’s ultra-stable oscillator (USO) and triple-frequency GPS/Galileo receiver provide measurements for a navigation filter representative of real-time onboard processing. Continuous evaluation of actual flight data over 14 days shows that a 3D orbit root-mean-square (RMS) error of 11 cm and a 0.9-ns clock standard deviation can be achieved.
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Published in: NAVIGATION: Journal of the Institute of Navigation, Volume 69, Number 3
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