The celestial system of the International Earth Rotation Service (IERS) is materialized by the J2000.0 positions of more than 250 extragalactic compact radio sources observed by VLBI. The source coordinates are evaluated from the combination of individual celestial frames obtained by the Goddard Space Flight Center, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the U.S. National Geodetic Survey.
The combination model and the maintenance algorithm are described. To free the IERS celestial frame from inconsistencies due to the inaccuracy of the IAU conventional models for precession and nutation, it is implemented on individual frames which have been obtained in parallel to the adjustment of corrections to the direction of the celestial pole.
The IERS celestial reference frame is consistent with FK5 at a few milliarcsecond level. To be made denser and more accessible for astronomical uses, it will be related to the HIPPARCOS stellar frame.