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In this paper, we present a new time delay maximum likelihood estimator based on importance sampling (IS). We show that a grid search and lack of convergence from which most iterative estimators suffer can be avoided. It is assumed that the transmitted data are completely unknown at the receiver. Moreover the carrier phase is considered as an unknown nuisance parameter. The time delay remains constant over the observation interval and the received signal is corrupted by additive white Gaussian noise (AWGN). We use importance sampling to find the global maximum of the compressed likelihood function. Based on a global optimization procedure, the main idea of the new estimator is to generate realizations of a random variable using an importance function, which approximates the actual compressed likelihood function. We will see that the algorithm parameters affect the estimation performance and that with an appropriate parameter choice, even over a small observation interval, the time delay can be accurately estimated at far lower computational cost than with classical iterative methods.