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GNSS-LEO radio links from Precise Orbital Determination (POD) and Radio Occultation (RO) antennas have been used increasingly in characterizing the global 3D distribution and variability of ionospheric electron density (Ne). In this study, we developed an optimal estimation (OE) method to retrieve Ne profiles from the slant total electron content (hTEC) measurements acquired by the GNSS-POD links at negative elevation angles (ε < 0°). Although both OE and onion-peeling (OP) methods use the Abel weighting function in the Ne inversion, they are significantly different in terms of performance in the lower ionosphere. The new OE results can overcome the large Ne oscillations, sometimes negative values, seen in the OP retrievals in the E-region ionosphere. In the companion paper in this Special Issue, the HmF2 and NmF2 from the OE retrieval are validated against ground-based ionosondes and radar observations, showing generally good agreements in NmF2 from all sites. Nighttime hmF2 measurements tend to agree better than the daytime when the ionosonde heights tend to be slightly lower. The OE algorithm has been applied to all GNSS-POD data acquired from the COSMIC-1 (2006–2019), COSMIC-2 (2019–present), and Spire (2019–present) constellations, showing a consistent ionospheric Ne morphology. The unprecedented spatiotemporal sampling of the ionosphere from these constellations now allows a detailed analysis of the frequency–wavenumber spectra for the Ne variability at different heights. In the lower ionosphere (~150 km), we found significant spectral power in DE1, DW6, DW4, SW5, and SE4 wave components, in addition to well-known DW1, SW2, and DE3 waves. In the upper ionosphere (~450 km), additional wave components are still present, including DE4, DW4, DW6, SE4, and SW4. The co-existence of eastward- and westward-propagating wave4 components implies the presence of a stationary wave4 (SPW4), as suggested by other earlier studies. Further improvements to the OE method are proposed, including a tomographic inversion technique that leverages the asymmetric sampling about the tangent point associated with GNSS-LEO links.


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Remote Sensing