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Accurate Mars Express orbits to improve the determination of the mass and ephemeris of the Martian moons

Accurate Mars Express orbits to improve the determination of the mass and ephemeris of the Martian moons

Publication date: 02 April 2008

Authors: Rosenblatt, P. et al.

Journal: Planetary and Space Science
Volume: 56
Issue: 7
Page: 1043-1053
Year: 2008

Copyright: Elsevier Ltd

The determination of the ephemeris of the Martian moons has benefited from observations of their plane-of-sky positions derived from images taken by cameras onboard spacecraft orbiting Mars. Images obtained by the Super Resolution Camera (SRC) onboard Mars Express (MEX) have been used to derive moon positions relative to Mars on the basis of a fit of a complete dynamical model of their motion around Mars. Since, these positions are computed from the relative position of the spacecraft when the images are taken, those positions need to be known as accurately as possible. An accurate MEX orbit is obtained by fitting two years of tracking data of the Mars Express Radio Science (MaRS) experiment onboard MEX. The average accuracy of the orbits has been estimated to be around 20-25 m. From these orbits, we have re-derived the positions of Phobos and Deimos at the epoch of the SRC observations and compared them with the positions derived by using the MEX orbits provided by the ESOC navigation team. After fit of the orbital model of Phobos and Deimos, the gain in precision in the Phobos position is roughly 30 m, corresponding to the estimated gain of accuracy of the MEX orbits. A new solution of the GM of the Martian moons has also been obtained from the accurate MEX orbits, which is consistent with previous solutions and, for Phobos, is more precise than the solution from the Mars Global Surveyor (MGS) and Mars Odyssey (ODY) tracking data. It will be further improved with data from MEX-Phobos closer encounters (at a distance less than 300 km). This study also demonstrates the advantage of combining observations of the moon positions from a spacecraft and from the Earth to assess the real accuracy of the spacecraft orbit. In turn, the natural satellite ephemerides can be improved and participate to a better knowledge of the origin and evolution of the Martian moons.

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