The Mark IIIA correlator system is currently operating at the U. S. Naval Observatory in Washington, D.C. in support of VLBI geodetic measurements being made by NASA, NGS, NRL, and USNO. This correlator system, developed at Haystack Observatory, is a second-generation version of the original Mark III correlator, and adds significant new capabilities such as double-speed operation, longer integration periods, and improved internal modelling.
The Mark IIIA correlator can simultaneously process up to 10 baselines of data from 5 stations. Experiments including more than 5 stations may be processed with multiple passes through the correlator. The architecture of the correlator allows a future expansion to a maximum of 16 stations. Due to a simple modular design and the low cost of required computer-support equipment, expansion is straightforward and relatively economical.
Although current geodetic VLBI observations are made using data from distant natural continuum radio sources, the Mark IIIA correlator was designed to also support processing of data collected from pulsars, artificial earth satellites, and from earth-orbiting antennas receiving signals from natural sources. These capabilities may be important in the future as efforts continue, for example, to tie satellite-related reference frames to current VLBI reference frames.
The design approach of the Mark IIIA correlator will be discussed, including its performance with respect to systematic and random errors which may affect geodetic VLBI data.