Combinatorial optimization applied to VLBI scheduling
Journal article, 2020
Due to the advent of powerful solvers, today linear programming has seen many applications in production and routing. In this publication, we present mixed-integer linear programming as applied to scheduling geodetic very-long-baseline interferometry (VLBI) observations. The approach uses combinatorial optimization and formulates the scheduling task as a mixed-integer linear program. Within this new method, the schedule is considered as an entity containing all possible observations of an observing session at the same time, leading to a global optimum. In our example, the optimum is found by maximizing the sky coverage score. The sky coverage score is computed by a hierarchical partitioning of the local sky above each telescope into a number of cells. Each cell including at least one observation adds a certain gain to the score. The method is computationally expensive and this publication may be ahead of its time for large networks and large numbers of VLBI observations. However, considering that developments of solvers for combinatorial optimization are progressing rapidly and that computers increase in performance, the usefulness of this approach may come up again in some distant future. Nevertheless, readers may be prompted to look into these optimization methods already today seeing that they are available also in the geodetic literature. The validity of the concept and the applicability of the logic are demonstrated by evaluating test schedules for five 1-h, single-baseline Intensive VLBI sessions. Compared to schedules that were produced with the scheduling software sked, the number of observations per session is increased on average by three observations and the simulated precision of UT1-UTC is improved in four out of five cases (6μs average improvement in quadrature). Moreover, a simplified and thus much faster version of the mixed-integer linear program has been developed for modern VLBI Global Observing System telescopes.
Mixed-integer linear programming
Local sky coverage