LAGEOS 1, 2
The LAGEOS satellites are passive vehicles covered with retroreflectors designed to reflect laser beams transmitted from ground stations. By measuring the time between transmission of the beam and reception of the reflected signal from the satellite, stations can precisely measure the distance between themselves and the satellite. These distances can be used to calculate station positions to within 1-3 cm. Long term data sets can be used to monitor the motion of the Earth's tectonic plates, measure the Earth's gravitational field, measure the "wobble" in the Earth's axis of rotation, and better detemine the length of an Earth day. LAGEOS 1 was developed by NASA and was placed into a high inclination orbit to permit viewing by ground stations located around the world. LAGEOS 2 was a joint program between NASA and the Italian space agency (ASI), which built the satellite using LAGEOS 1 drawings and specifications, handling fixtures, and other materials provided by NASA. LAGEOS 2's orbit was selected to provide more coverage of seismically active areas, such as the Mediterranean Basin and California, and may help scientists understand irregularities noted in the motion of LAGEOS 1. Ground tracking stations are located in many countries (including the US, Mexico, France, Germany, Poland, Australia, Egypt, China, Peru, Italy, and Japan) and data from these stations is available worldwide to investigators studying crustal dynamics. LAGEOS 1 also contains a message plaque addressed to human and other beings of the far distant future with maps of the Earth from 3 different eras - 268 million years in the past, present day, and 8 million years in the future (the satellite's estimated decay date).
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