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New satellite positioning tech key to Australia’s future

by Se Eun Lee •
Free resource

The testbed of Satellite-Based Augmentation Systems (SBAS) for the Australasian region is well underway, bringing space technology into the spotlight.

This follows the announcement in September 2017 by then-acting Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science Senator Michaelia Cash, who formally backed calls to establish a national space agency. The establishment of the space agency is expected to further attract and support emerging technologies in areas like satellite communications and spatial technology.

Led by Geoscience Australia (GA) in collaboration with Land Information New Zealand (LINZ) and the Cooperative Research Centre for Spatial Information (CRCSI), the Satellite-Based Augmentation Systems project is part of the National Positioning Infrastructure (NPI) Capability program that seeks to develop a new generation of positioning systems for Australia with improved accuracy and reliability.

“SBAS utilises space-based and ground-based infrastructure to improve and augment the accuracy, integrity and availability of basic Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) signals,” explained the federal Minister for Infrastructure and Transport Darren Chester in a media release earlier this year.

The project involves the testing of two new satellite positioning technologies, second-generation SBAS (SBAS-2) and Precise Point Positioning (PPP), in various capacities. GA website states that SBAS-2 will provide positioning accuracy of several decimetres, and PPP an accuracy of five centimetres. Currently, positioning in Australia is usually accurate to 5 to 10 metres.

SBAS corrects basic GNSS signals for better accuracy. © Commonwealth of Australia (Geoscience Australia) 2017, used under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International Licence.

According to GA, there are currently six GNSSs in orbit around the world, and Australia is one of few countries in the world that can receive positioning signals from all of them: United States’ GPS; Russia's GLONASS; Japan's Quasi Zenith Satellite System (QZSS); the European Union's Galileo; China's Beidou; and the Indian Regional Navigation Satellite System (IRNSS).

“As one of few countries in the world with high visibility to each system, Australia stands to benefit significantly through early adoption and innovative capability development,” notes GA’s website.

“Investing strategically in the location and capability of ground infrastructure will significantly reduce national barriers to precise positioning.”

The five GNSS countries and the EU have already invested in infrastructure that delivers satellite-based corrections via an SBAS. The Australasian SBAS test project will allow Australia and New Zealand to join their ranks.

The project was allocated $12 million in funding over two years by the Australian Government in January 2017. The New Zealand Government has also contributed an additional $2 million.

The SBAS technology will benefit transport sectors – including aviation, maritime, rail and road – as well as areas like agriculture, mining, construction, and resources. Widespread adoption of the technology is expected to generate upwards of $73 billion in value to Australia by 2030 by improving productivity for various communication and location-based services.

Around 30 projects are currently underway to test and evaluate the effectiveness and application of SBAS technologies. The projects were selected following two rounds of Expressions of Interest (EoI) in March 2017 and September 2017 by CRCSI, who invited organisations operating in various sectors to participate in the SBAS testbed demonstrator projects.

VicRoads is one agency chosen to spearhead a project. On 13 December, VicRoads showcased a highly automated driving (HAD) vehicle fitted with the new satellite positioning technology at the Melbourne Grand Prix Circuit.

According to Chester, “[t]he VicRoads’ project is focused on how SBAS technology can be used to enable vehicle automation”.

“Over the course of this project, VicRoads will be comparing the accuracy of SBAS technology to commercial positioning services used to facilitate automated driving,” added the Assistant Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science Craig Laundy.

VicRoads will receive up to $89,500 in funding for the project, and is making an in-kind contribution of over $31,000.

With many Australian jurisdictions starting driverless vehicle trials, or signalling intent to do so, SBAS technology can be expected to play a key role in the transport sector in coming years.

Other SBAS projects currently underway include:

  • Evaluating the benefits of SBAS for the surveying and spatial profession, by NSW Department of Finance, Services and Innovation’s Spatial Services;
  • Examining an applied geospatial perspective of SBAS technology, by ORBICA Ltd and Reveal Infrastructure Ltd; and
  • Examining the potential for SBAS to improve the accuracy of GNSS to facilitate the development of key livestock monitoring and management applications, by Central Queensland University.

Three tech companies – GMV, Inmarsat and Lockheed Martin – are also involved in the implementation of the project. For the duration of the project, GMV is responsible for providing magicSBAS – SBAS processors that generate the GNSS augmentation messages. Inmarsat is managing the Navigation Payload on its I-4 F1 satellite, and Lockheed Martin is responsible for the uplink antenna at Uralla, NSW, which directs GMV’s augmentation messages to the SBAS payload hosted aboard the Inmarsat satellite.

A review of Australia’s space industry capability was announced in July 2017. A final space strategy expected by the end of March 2018.

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