Topside Ionosphere/Plasmasphere Tomography Using Space-Borne Dual Frequency Gps Receivers

  • Talini Pinto Jayawardena

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisPhD


This research demonstrates the potential of novel technology for space-based remote sensing of the topside ionosphere-plasmasphere, supported by ionospheric imaging, which can augment and enhance our current understanding of the Earth’s plasmasphere.The research was conducted in two phases. The first was the development of a technology demonstrator ‘TOPCAT’ that installed a dual-frequency GPS receiver dedicated for topside ionosphere-plasmasphere imaging into a Low Earth Orbit (LEO). The novelties of TOPCAT were that it was designed from commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) components and was installed on-board the CubeSat ‘UKube-1’, greatly reducing development and launch costs of the instrument. The successful launch of TOPCAT for space-borne remote sensing of the topside ionosphere and plasmasphere could provide the necessary proof of concept for the installation of a constellation of CubeSats – a possible next phase that may be implemented in the future. Thus, in its first stage, the thesis discusses the development of TOPCAT, together with design challenges encountered from constraints imposed by CubeSat technology. The discussion also includes the series of qualification tests performed to successfully qualify TOPCAT as a space-worthy payload design that can remotely image regions beyond the ionosphere.The second phase of research was the validation of the Multi-Instrument Data Analysis System (MIDAS) for the topside ionosphere and plasmasphere. A tomography algorithm originally developed for the ionosphere, MIDAS uses total electron content (TEC) measurements from differential phase of GPS signals, and inverts them to derive the electron density of the region. The thesis investigates the extension of MIDAS to image regions beyond the ionosphere by validating the algorithm for the topside ionosphere and plasmasphere. The process was carried out by first reconstructing a simulation by Gallagher et al. [1988] to verify the quality of the images. This was followed by the use of real GPS phase data from the COSMIC constellation to reconstruct the topside ionosphere-plasmasphere, and the qualitative comparison of the images with previous independent observations obtained through COSMIC and Jason-1 missions. Results showed that MIDAS can successfully reconstruct the undisturbed (quiet) topside ionosphere-plasmasphere using COSMIC data. However, imaging the storm-time topside ionosphere-plasmasphere requires better data coverage (i.e. more receivers) as the resolution offered by COSMIC was not sufficient to reconstruct fast-evolving structures – thereby emphasising the need for more data sources providing high resolution global coverage, such as a constellation of CubeSats with LEO-based GPS receivers.
Date of Award24 Jun 2015
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bath
SupervisorCathryn Mitchell (Supervisor) & Robert Watson (Supervisor)


  • Plasmapshere, CubeSat, GPS, Tomography

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