Goddard Geophysical and Astronomical Observatory (GGAO)

GGAO logolocation of the GGAO on a map of the world

The Goddard Geophysical and Astronomical Observatory (GGAO) is one of the few sites in the world to have all four geodetic techniques co-located at a single location: SLR, VLBI, GNSS, and DORIS. Thus, sites like GGAO provide scientists a unique opportunity to assess system performance and perform multi-technique analysis. Furthermore, co-located techniques are an integral part to the maintenance of the International Terrestrial Reference Frame (ITRF), a set of points with their 3-dimensional cartesian coordinates which realize an ideal reference system. Co-location of systems in near proximity also enable (according to the ITRF website):

  • calibration of mobile systems, for instance SLR or GNSS antennas, using simultaneous measurements of instruments referring to the same technique
  • repeated measurements on a marker with mobile systems (for instance mobile SLR or VLBI), using non simultaneous measurements of instruments referring to the same technique
  • changes in antenna location for GNSS or DORIS
  • co-locations between instruments referring to different techniques, which implies eccentricities, except in the case of successive occupancies of a given marker by various mobile systems
GGAO map

GGAO site map

The GGAO is located as part of the NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC) in Greenbelt, Maryland, and is known as the birthplace of Satellite Laser Ranging (SLR). Development activities for current and prototype SLR and VLBI systems occur at the GGAO, which consists of nearly 50 hectares of land located 2 miles from Goddard's main campus.

Other activities at GGAO include supporting one-way laser ranging experiments to the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, neutron spectroscopy experiments, search for optical sources of gamma ray bursts, the X-Ray beam-line, low frequency interferometry, the Astronomy Club's telescope facility, and many others.

Due to site topography issues and the long timeframe of implementing each of the original systems, the layout of this site is not ideal. At issue is poor geometry of each technique (all mostly in a straight North/South alignment), and poor geometry of calibration piers due to site topography. Other site infrastructure including power, safety, security, and access are excellent, being part of the GSFC infrastructure. Local commitment and support are excellent with the GGAO being the center for the development of the SLR and VLBI next generation systems, the proximity to GSFC, and availability of abundant Government, contractor, and other support.

The weather in the region is not ideal for SLR with about 50% cloud cover.

Virtual tour of GGAO

Recent news:

Gimbal and Telescope Assembly (GTA) #1 installed in the SGSLR shelter in late June 2022
September 14, 2022

The Gimbal with Mass Simulator was removed from the GGAO SGSLR facility in June 2022 and shipped back to Cobham. After the Factory Acceptance Test at Cobham in Lansdale, the Gimbal and Telescope Assembly (GTA) #1 was shipped to GGAO and installed in the SGSLR shelter in late June 2022. Preparations for the Site Acceptance Testing (SAT) were begun shortly after installation.

SGSLR's Gimbal and Telescope Assembly Unit #1 at GGAO, MD, USA

GTA#1 in the SGSLR dome at GGAO