Institution(s): 1. JPL
ICRF-3 seeks to improve upon the highly successful ICRF-2. Our goals are to improve the precision, spatial and frequency coverage relative to the ICRF-2 by 2018. This date is driven by the desire to create radio frames that are ready for comparison with the Gaia optical frame.
Several specific actions are underway. A collaboration to improve at S/X-band precision of the Very Long Baseline Array (VLBA) Calibrator Survey's ~2200 sources, which are typically 5 times less precise than the rest of the ICRF-2, is bearing fruit and is projected to yield a factor of 3 improvement in precision. S/X-band southern hemisphere precision improvements are underway with observations using southern antennas such as the AuScope, Warkworth, and HartRAO, South Africa.
We also seek to improve radio frequency coverage with X/Ka-band and K-band work. An X/Ka frame of 660 sources now has full sky coverage from the addition of a 2nd southern station in Argentina which is strengthening the southern hemisphere in general. The X/Ka-band frame's precision is now comparable to the ICRF-2 for the 530 sources in common. A K-band collaboration has formed with similar coverage and southern precision goals. By the time of this meeting, we expect K-band to complete full sky coverage with south polar cap observations and to improve spatial density north of -30 deg declination with VLBA observations.
On the analysis front, special attention is being given to combination techniques both of Very Long Baseline Interferometry (VLBI) frames and of multiple data types. Consistency of the Celestial Reference Frame (CRF) with the Terrestrial Reference Frame (TRF) and Earth Oreintation Parameters (EOP) is another area of concern. Comparison of celestial frame solutions from various groups is underway in order to identify and correct systematic errors. We will discuss evidence emerging for 100 µas zonal errors in the ICRF2 in the declination range from 0 to -30 deg.
Finally, work is underway to identify and pinpoint sources bright enough in both radio and optical to allow for a robust frame tie between VLBI and Gaia optical frames. Investigations to characterize optical vs. radio centroid offsets are underway.