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An End-to-End GNSS Radio Occultation Simulator

Joel Rasch, Molflow
Anders Carlström RUAG Space AB
Patrick Eriksson, Chalmers

GNSS radio occultation (RO) is a technique where one
measures the refraction of GNSS signals as they pass
through the atmosphere using receivers on LEO satellites.
From the bending of the signals one can deduce
atmospheric parameters such as pressure, temperature,
humidity, and electron content. The technique is very
reliable and requires little calibration, and holds the
promise of being able to deliver important data for NWP.
In order to be able to simulate how the next generation of
receivers for RO will perform, and what the fundamental
limitations of the technique are, it is necessary to be able
to simulate the microwave field propagation through the
atmosphere and into LEO, as well as adding noise and
applying inversion methods to the signal. For this reason
we have constructed a RO simulator which uses the
multiple phase screen technique to propagate the field in
the atmosphere, a diffractive integral to propagate it to
LEO, and the phase matching technique to invert the

Principles of GNSS Radio
When a GNSS microwave signals passes through the Earth
atmosphere its wavefront is distorted due to refractivity
gradients in the atmosphere. At each position where the
wavefront is encountered by a LEO satellite one can
identify a ray (or several) having a bending angle (?) and
an impact height (?).

The Wave Optics

Signal Inversion

To be able to make realistic simulations of what the
microwave field will be in LEO, and to judge the
performance of receivers etc., it is necessary to simulate
the propagation of the field from GNSS to the
atmosphere, through the atmosphere, and into LEO.
1) Propagation from GNSS to atmosphere
This step is easy, the field is modelled as a cylindrical
wave, so the amplitude is given by
? ???? =

exp ??0 ???? − ?????
???? − ?????

Where ?0 is the wavenumber, and ? a position vector with
respect to the Earth center.
2) Propagation through the atmosphere
The propagation through the atmosphere is achieved with
the Multiple Phase Screen (MPS) technique. Using a
spatial Fourier in the direction perpendicular (y) to the
propagation direction (z)

? ?, ? = ℱ ?(?, ?) =

? ?, ? exp −??? ??

One can solve the Helmholtz equation approximately, and
the wavefront can be propagated a small step (∆?) in the
propagation direction using
? ?, ? + ∆? = exp −?
?(?)2 − 1
× ℱ −1 exp −?

From the signal phase and amplitude we can deduce the
bending angle vs. impact height for a vertical column in
the atmosphere in the vicinity of the tangent point.



ℱ ?, ?(?)

Where ? is the refractive index. The influence of the
atmosphere is thus taken into account on phase screens in
the vertical direction separated by the distance ∆?. Using
some 1000 screens one can propagate through the entire

3) Propagation from atmosphere to LEO
From the ? vs. ? diagram one can (via the so-called Abel
transform) find the refractivity vs. height diagram.

The propagation from the last phase screen to LEO is
achieved using a diffractive integral
? ???? =



? ? cos ?

exp ??0 ?? − ????
?? − ????

4 ??

Where ?? is the height of the screen, and ? the angle
between the screen normal and the vector between the
screen and the LEO position.

Using sophisticated methods, atmospheric parameters
such as temperature, pressure and humidity can be
deduced from the refractivity curve.

In LEO the signal phase and amplitude are received. The
problem is now how to interpret the signal in terms of
bending angle and impact height. There are several
methods, e.g.: Back-Propagation, Canonical Transform,
Full Spectrum Inversion, and Phase Matching (PM). The
main problem is how to resolve multipath regions. PM is
generally considered to be the most accurate, and that is
what we have used.