McDonald Geodetic Observatory

The McDonald Geodetic Observatory (MGO) is a joint venture among the NASA Space Geodesy Project (SGP), the University of Texas at Austin Center for Space Research, and the McDonald Observatory. MGO’s mission is to contribute to the global geodetic infrastructure by colocating multiple state-of-the-art geodetic instruments tied together by mm-level metrology. The data produced by MGO and its associated network of similar sites around the world are used to support the definition of the International Terrestrial Reference Frame (ITRF), measurement of the Earth Orientation Parameters, and satellite precision orbit determination.

MGO: For Science and Society

Image of Miami Beach coastlineThe data and products from MGO will be used to support a range of scientific and societal applications in areas such as Earth science; positioning, navigation, and timing; radio science information systems, education, and public outreach.


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MGO Instrumentation

VLBI DishThe scope of MGO – its instrumentation, measurement precision, and scientific analysis framework – is driven by the need to precisely monitor global and regional sea-level change and related areas.

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Current Research Projects at MGO

Several research projects utilize and strengthen MGO. Ground-breaking research to improve its equipment and techniques help improve the accuracy of the mm-level metrology. Similarly, significant research is being undertaken to better understand the changes to the gravity load that may affect the MGO’s instrumentation.

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UT and NASA: A Unique Relationship Built on a Half-Century Legacy

MGO is the most recent incarnation of a storied scientific career dating back to 1969. The astronauts of Apollo XI – the first mission to successfully land humans on the Moon – left behind a retroreflector in the Moon’s Sea of Tranquility region. The McDonald Observatory’s 2.7-meter Lunar Laser Ranging (LLR) system was among five globally to report successful high-precision lunar laser range measurements continued doing so after the 1980’s. LLR continued at the Observatory using the Mobile Laser Ranging System (pictured) until April 2015.

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Last Updated: April 13, 2021