Observations of Artificial Radio Sources within the Framework of Geodetic Very Long Baseline Interferometry

Abstract: Very long baseline interferometry (VLBI) is a mature and fascinating technique with unique and indisputable applications in radio astronomy, planetary sciences, and space geodesy. The latter discipline is a field of science facilitating our understanding of various global-scale phenomena connected to Earth dynamics. Space geodesy provides, in the microwave regime, accurate and long-term stable celestial and terrestrial reference frames, to which those environmental changes can be properly referenced and their spatio-temporal variability can be subsequently accurately investigated. In order to attain better knowledge on complex, and yet subtle, geodynamical phenomena of scientific and economic importance, there is a need for an improved global geodetic infrastructure and enhanced quality of space-geodetic measurements. The common effort of the geodetic community known as the Global Geodetic Observing System (GGOS) shall address that need and provide the highest possible accuracy of geodetic products and reference frames as well as the high consistency across space-geodetic techniques. The ambitious goals of GGOS necessitate appropriate changes to be made also in the area of geodetic/astrometric VLBI, realized at preset in the form of the VLBI Global Observing System (VGOS), a next-generation system aiming to meet the requirements of GGOS and deliver geodetic products with an unprecedented quality. In order to make VGOS succeed, the key components of this complex system need to be refined, including also new observing concepts and scheduling strategies, in order to fully exploit the enhanced performance that this system can bring. Thanks to its characteristics, VGOS creates also a great opportunity for extending the current VLBI research with new applications, for the benefit of the scientific community and society at large. The subject of this thesis concerns observations of artificial radio sources within the framework of geodetic VLBI, in connection to both the current VLBI system and VGOS. This includes information on the combination of observations of natural radio sources and satellite/lunar objects as well as benefits and challenges related to the observing strategy and the technical feasibility of the presented concept. The thesis is based mostly on extensive simulation studies concerning objects on the Moon and geodetic Earth-orbiting satellites, but it also includes an analysis of VLBI observations of the lunar lander performed during dedicated experiments and with a global network of radio telescopes. The information content of this thesis may be treated as a further step towards global observations of artificial radio sources with VLBI in the VGOS era and stimulate new observing concepts for space geodesy.