Correlation and Imaging of Space VLBI Observations

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Session 27 -- The Space VLBI Mission VSOP182
Oral presentation, Tuesday, June 13, 1995, 8:30am - 12:30pm

[27.08] Correlation and Imaging of Space VLBI Observations

J. D. Romney (NRAO)

Space VLBI observations challenge conventional VLBI data-analysis systems and techniques in several areas. The correlator must obtain and evaluate an ephemeris for an orbiting ``station'' which is not fixed on the surface of the earth. The geometric delay, and its derivatives, for this element can exceed those for terrestrial stations by an order of magnitude. Imperfect knowledge of the orbit requires that the output data flow be sufficient to preserve unusually wide windows in residual delay and fringe rate. And, at least for the current generation of Space VLBI missions, the spacecraft have no on-board precision frequency standard; the phase-transfer process from a frequency standard on the ground is accompanied by errors which must be corrected in the correlator.

Imaging of observations involving an orbiting element must contend with gaps in the $(u,v)$ plane coverage for many cases of the orbit and source geometry. Projected baselines to the orbiting element change significantly more rapidly than terrestrial baselines during perigee passage of the spacecraft. Self-calibration techniques are complicated by the facts that all measurements in many regions of the $(u,v)$ plane involve baselines to the single orbiting antenna, and that their residual delay and fringe rate may be subject to short-term variations. Since the current generation of Space VLBI missions have relatively small antennas, observations of weaker sources will be limited to sparse arrays comprising only the largest available radio telescopes on the ground, and interpretation of the results may require sophisticated image model-fitting software.

NRAO's participation in the VSOP and Radioastron missions includes programs to modify the VLBA correlator and the AIPS imaging system to meet these requirements. Also included is a user-support program, to provide expert assistance in data analysis to Space VLBI observers, at a level similar to the support NRAO currently provides for ground-based VLBI observations.

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