- Open Access
Asymmetric dihedral angle offsets for large-size lunar laser ranging retroreflectors
© The Society of Geomagnetism and Earth, Planetary and Space Sciences (SGEPSS); The Seismological Society of Japan; The Volcanological Society of Japan; The Geodetic Society of Japan; The Japanese Society for Planetary Sciences; TERRAPUB. 2011
- Received: 21 July 2011
- Accepted: 9 November 2011
- Published: 12 December 2011
The distribution of two-dimensional velocity aberration is off-centered by 5 to 6 microradians in lunar laser ranging, due to the stable measurement geometry in the motion of the Earth and the Moon. The optical responses of hollow-type retroreflectors are investigated through numerical simulations, especially focusing on large-size, single-reflector targets that can ultimately minimize the systematic error in future lunar laser ranging. An asymmetric dihedral angle offset, i.e. setting unequal angles between the three back faces, is found to be effective for retroreflectors that are larger than 100 mm in diameter. Our numerical simulation results reveal that the optimized return energy increases approximately 3.5 times more than symmetric dihedral angle cases, and the optimized dihedral angle offsets are 0.65–0.8 arcseconds for one angle, and zeroes for the other two angles.
- Lunar laser ranging
- velocity aberration
Laser ranging has been the most precise method to directly measure the Earth-Moon distance since the Apollo-Lunokhod era. Beginning in 1969, the Apollo astronauts placed three panels with 100 or 300 retroreflectors of 38mm diameter, and the Lunokhod rovers left two panels with 14 triangular retroreflectors of 106-mm length of each side. The optical energy of a return signal is very low in lunar laser ranging—typically well below the one photon level, even by using 1- to 1.5-m telescopes located at high altitudes. Therefore, there have been only a handful of laser ranging stations in the world that can receive echoes from these lunar targets. Up to now, the majority of lunar laser ranging data has come from the echoes from the Apollo-15 array that is made up of 300 retroreflectors. The targets of Apollo-11, -14 and Lunokhod-2 have been also tracked. It was recently reported that the long-lost Lunokhod-1 target was successfully tracked by the Apache Point laser ranging station with its 3.5-metre telescope (Murphy et al., 2010b).
Feasibility studies with larger-size reflectors are actively ongoing for future lunar laser ranging targets. For instance, Currie et al. (2011) have designed and tested a 10-cm-diameter uncoated prism retroreflector. Otsubo et al. (2010) have demonstrated a numerical optical simulation which suggested that velocity aberration should be taken into account for a large-size retroreflector. The primary advantage of the concept of the single retroreflector system is to ultimately minimize the so-called target signature effect, which makes measurement less precise due to the multiple reflection points and the resultant pulse spreading. In comparison with the prism retroreflectors that have been placed on the Moon and a number of artificial satellites, hollow-type retroreflectors (also known as open retroreflectors) are generally lighter, and are expected to perform better per mass provided that the two types of retroreflectors behave the same in the Moon environment. This paper focuses on a numerical simulation for hollow-type retroreflectors as we proposed for the SELENE-2 project (Tanaka et al., 2008), but a similar approach is surely possible for prismtype retroreflectors.
It should be mentioned that the actual optical behavior is also affected by manufacturing error and the time-varying environment at the Moon’s surface, which are the on-going issues in and around our group, but such an investigation is out of the scope of this paper.
It should be emphasized that such two-dimensional modeling is not required for Earth-orbiting artificial satellites at low or middle altitudes, because the azimuth angle of incidence toward a retroreflector varies in time and space. In the case of lunar laser ranging, however, the azimuthal distribution of the velocity aberration vector is shifted to one side.
Now let us construct a target-fixed reference frame (X Y Z) T whose axes are aligned to the principal axes of the lunar moment of inertia (Archinal et al., 2011), whereas a precise definition is not critical in this study. The X-axis is taken positive approximately toward the Mean Earth, and the Z-axis is taken positive approximately toward the mean rotation-axis direction of the Moon. The Y-axis is chosen so that the (X Y Z) T coordinates are right-handed.
We see from Fig. 2 that the velocity aberration is not evenly distributed in the Y-Z plane at all, and is off-centered to the area where the Y -component is between +4 to +7 microradians and the Z-component is between −2to +2 microradians. This is interpreted as a result of the fact that the orbital motion of the Moon is dominating in the velocity field, and its direction is always close to the −Y direction. It should also be noted that the velocity of a station on the rotating Earth also has an impact on the velocity aberration, but is always below half of the orbital motion of the Moon.
A dihedral angle offset is defined as a deviation from the right angle of the angles between two neighboring faces. Dihedral angle offsets have been set to 0.5 to 2.0 arcseconds for the retroreflectors on Earth-orbiting artificial satellites to enlarge the far-field diffraction and to compensate for the velocity aberration. The three dihedral angles between the three back faces have typically been set to be symmetric in these cases, as was the case in Otsubo et al. (2010). Symmetrical dihedral angle offsets symmetrically expand the far-field diffraction pattern. In this study, however, the search of the best dihedral angle offsets is extended by making one dihedral angle offset (“δ2” in Fig. 1) free from the other two. We now attempt to evaluate the far-field diffraction pattern with such asymmetric dihedral angle offsets.
Let us focus on hollow-type retroreflectors in this simulation to evaluate the feasibility of large-size retroreflectors in lunar laser ranging. The diameter of a hollow retroreflector is set to be variable from 60–250 mm with circular front faces. The wavelength of the incident laser beam is set to 532 nm, which is common in the current laser ranging network. The software used in this study is an updated version of our previous study (Otsubo et al., 2010), and the mathematical background is well documented in Hecht (2002).
In Fig. 3, the first graph (a) shows the case of no dihedral angles, which makes the optical energy too concentrated at the centre, out of the velocity aberration area. The weighted average of intensity is 34 times that of an Apollo retroreflector. The second graph (b) is the best case in Otsubo et al. (2010), when the dihedral angle offsets are symmetrically set to 0.35 arcseconds. This pattern indeed illuminates the velocity aberration area and the intensity amounts to 169 Apollo retroreflectors, but its energy is two-dimensionally scattered beyond the required area. The last graph (c) shows the most efficient case of a large number of numerical tests: the dihedral angle offsets are asymmetric, (δ1,δ2, δ3) = (0.00, 0.65, 0.00) arcseconds. The weighted average intensity corresponds to 599 Apollo retroreflectors, about 3.5 times that of the case (b). The far-field diffraction pattern in graph (c) has only two illuminating areas, one of which efficiently shows the velocity aberration region given in Fig. 2.
We always obtain optimum results at τ1 = τ3 = 0. When these two angles deviate from zero, the diffraction pattern symmetrically expands toward the −Z and +Z directions. The intensity in the velocity aberration region becomes attenuated, and, therefore, dihedral angle offsets for τ1 = τ3 are not preferred.
Optimized performance of hollow retroreflector and dihedral angle offsets.
Aperture diameter (mm)
Optimum dihedral angle offset (arcseconds)
Optimum intensity (× Apollo retroreflector)
(0.00, 0.00, 0.00)
(0.00, 0.25, 0.00)
(0.00, 0.80, 0.00)
(0.00, 0.80, 0.00)
(0.00, 0.75, 0.00)
(0.00, 0.70, 0.00)
(0.00, 0.65, 0.00)
(0.00, 0.65, 0.00)
(0.00, 0.65, 0.00)
When the reflector size is small, no dihedral angle offsets are required. This is because the diffraction spread is large enough to cover the velocity aberration within the first minimum ring. The transition occurs around 80–100-mm size, where there is almost no difference between zero dihedral angle offset and the optimum dihedral angle offset for a large-size retroreflector mentioned below. In the case of a larger reflector size, the dihedral angle offsets becomes advantageous and the optimum combination stays around (0.00, 0.65–0.80, 0.00) arcseconds.
An empirical study had revealed that the intensity is proportional to the 2.2–2.6th power of diameter in the case of spherical geodetic satellites (Otsubo and Appleby, 2003). However, the optimum intensity in Table 1 suggests that it is proportional to about the 3.5th power of diameter in this study. Since the weight is roughly proportional to the cube of the diameter, this result suggests a groundbreaking theory: the larger a retroreflector is, the stronger is the intensity per unit mass which may be expected.
The condition τ1 = τ3 has been assumed so far, and this is, in fact, harmonic to the orientation of a retroreflector defined in Fig. 1. When this equality is lost, the difference between τ1 and τ3 contributes to the rotation of the diffraction pattern, which makes the situation simply worse on average in this orientation condition. When the azimuthal orientation of a retroreflector was rotated from Fig. 1, such a rotation would be required. Therefore, the condition τ1 = τ3 does not lose generality in the configuration of this study.
Unlike most of Earth-orbiting artificial satellites, the two-dimensional velocity aberration vector in lunar laser ranging is simply off-centered toward the +Y direction by 4–7 microradians, due to the stable measurement geometry. A retroreflector with optimum asymmetric dihedral angle offsets are found to efficiently illuminate this region, about 3.5 times stronger on average than one with optimum symmetric dihedral angle offsets. Such an asymmetric combination is required for a hollow-type retroreflector larger than 100-mm diameter, and the optimum combination is found around (τ1, τ2, τ3) = (0.00, 0.65–0.80, 0.00) arcseconds.
The authors would like to thank the reviewers for their comments which helped to improve the manuscript. This study is supported by a Grant-in-Aid for Young Scientists (B) 70358943 of KAKENHI.
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