The LRR is an array of mirrors that provides a target for laser tracking measurements from the ground. By analysing the round-trip time of the laser beam, we can locate where the satellite is on its orbit.


A laser retroreflector is attached to a mount on the nadir panel close to the RA antenna. It has two functions:

  • support-to-satellite ranging,
  • RA altitude calibration.

The LRR is a passive device which is used as a reflector by ground-based SLR (Satellite Laser Ranging) stations using high-power pulsed lasers. In the case of ERS-1, tracking using the LRR was mainly performed by the International Laser Ranging Service (ILRS).

The ILRS provides tracking for the satellite from its global network of laser ranging stations. Laser stations fire short laser bursts at ERS and time the interval before the pulse is reflected back. These ILRS stations are relatively few, but because their positions are very accurately known, they provide a set of independent reference measurements of ERS’s position, which contribute to the satellite’s precise orbit determination.


The operating principle of the LRR is therefore to measure on the ground the return trip time of laser pulses reflected from an array of corner cubes mounted on the Earth-facing side of the satellite. The corner cubes ensure that the laser beam is reflected back parallel to the incident beam. The detailed design of the cubes includes compensation for the aberration of the laser beam caused by the satellite’s velocity: the satellite moves almost 40 metres between the emission and reception of the laser pulse from the SLR station, and this is compensated for by slight nonparallelism of the reflected beam.


 ERS-1 LRR (Credits ESA)

The corner cubes are made of the highest-quality fused silica and work in the visible spectrum. Their performance is optimised at the two wavelengths (694 nm and 532 nm) commonly used in SLR stations. The corner cubes are symmetrically-mounted on a hemispherical surface with one nadir-pointing corner cube in the centre, surrounded by an angled ring of eight corner cubes.

This allows laser ranging in the field of view angles of 360° in azimuth and 60° in elevation around the perpendicular to the satellite’s Earth-facing panel (positioned on the axis at point -Zs with respect to the satellite’s centre of mass).

Orbit performance

Figure shows the history of the ground track for ERS-1

esocfig1R. Zandbergen , Progress in ERS Orbit and Tracking Data Analysis


Further information on ERS (ESA website)