Geoscience Aus. announces major GPS upgrade contract with Lockheed Martin
Geoscience Australia have signed a major contract with Lockheed Martin Australia to deliver significant improvements to the GPS network. The Southern Positioning Augmentation Network (SouthPAN) contract will run for 19 years.
Geoscience Australia has announced that Australia and New Zealand will be working together with Lockheed Martin Australia to deliver improved Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) accuracy and reliability for users. The $1.18 Billion contract will provide SouthPAN, which is a Satellite-Based Augmentation System (SBAS), comprised of reference stations, telecommunications infrastructure, computing centres, signal generators, and satellites.
Lockheed Martin Australia will work with the SouthPAN project team to establish a network of GNSS reference stations and satellite uplink facilities that will enable communications and transmissions with the SouthPAN space infrastructure.
Between 2017 and 2019, a test SBAS project ran to assess the economic, social and environmental benefits of improved positioning technology through industry case study projects. This study included working with Australia Post to provide end-of-line drone delivery and Airservices Australia to provide safer and more accurate aircraft approaches for regional and rural aerodromes. In total there were 27 projects across 10 industries sectors.
David Ball, Regional Director of Space for Lockheed Martin Australia and New Zealand says it is an exciting time to be in the Australasian space sector and the team can’t wait to get underway with the SouthPAN project.
“Space is among our fastest growing areas, and our local technical team will play an important role in delivering the benefits of SouthPAN capability to service many sectors including aviation, agriculture, transport, mining and other industries,” he said.
“SouthPAN will deliver more than $6.2 billion in economic benefits over the next 30 years. It will drive economic growth in regional Australia especially, because the service covers all of Australia's land and maritime zones, including regional and remote Australia,” said Geoscience Australia’s acting CEO Alison Rose.
GPS, GNSS, Galileo
The Global Positioning System or GPS is probably the best known of the GNSS, but it is just one of many systems that cover the globe. The GPS is owned and maintained by the USA but other nations and entities such as the European Union (EU), own and maintain their own systems as well. The SouthPAN initiative will deliver a signal augmenting GPS and Galileo, the EU’s constellation of 28 satellites.
As the world has become more reliant upon the use of GNSS, the importance of having access to the signals has increased. Whilst it may feel like access to GNSS signals has been around for a long time, it wasn’t until the year 2000 that the US government began providing civilian and commercial access to the GPS signal. Today the GPS constellation is made up of 29 operational satellites.
In addition to GPS and Galileo, China utilises the BeiDou Navigation Satellite System (BDS), which is comprised of 35 satellites and Russia uses the GLObalnaya NAvigatsionnaya Sputnikovaya Sistema or GLONASS made up of 24 satellites. India also has its own constellation the Indian Regional Navigation Satellite System (IRNSS), as does Japan with the Quasi-Zenith Satellite System (QZSS).
The QZSS is currently a 4 satellite constellation that supplements the GPS focusing on Japan. It also makes use of the SBAS to provide enhanced accuracy to the system.
The SouthPAN system will advance Australian and New Zealand GNSS technology, with Australia providing 75% of the costs and New Zealand the remaining 25%.
“This is the first step towards the launch of the first government-owned satellite-based augmentation service or system in the Southern hemisphere. There are Northern Hemisphere SBAS, but this is the first in the southern hemisphere. This is a joint partnership between Geoscience Australia and Toitū Te Whenua Land Information New Zealand under the Australia New Zealand science research and Innovation Cooperation Agreement,” added Rose.
New Zealand Minister for Land Information, Damien O’Connor, said the joint Australia-New Zealand initiative will be a game-changer for the economies of both nations.
“SouthPAN provides crucial digital infrastructure for the future and we expect the actual benefits to be greater over the project’s lifespan. Beyond the horizon, new products on the market will use this infrastructure to create value in new ways for businesses and consumers,” Minister O’Connor said.
Traditionally GNSS receivers such as those found in your phone or smart technology rely upon the signal from at least 4 different satellites to determine the location of the receiver. A standard smartphone can usually tell your location to within less than 10 meters. However, this can be impacted by your location due to factors such as signal blockage, atmospheric conditions and the quality of the receiver.
SBAS are used to improve the data received from GNSS constellations. SBAS can remove and correct for errors in the collection of GNSS data, improving the accuracy of the positioning from meters down to centimetres.
“SouthPAN is actually a system of space and ground infrastructure that enhances the accuracy and precision of existing GPS and other global navigation satellite systems, so for the first time, Australians will have access to world-class positioning services. This will increase the accuracy from the current 5 to 10 meters down to as little as 10 centimetres on land and sea, and without the need for mobile or Internet coverage,” said Rose.
SouthPAN will operate through the deployment of a series of ground stations monitoring signals broadcast by GNSS and will compare the station’s known location with the position data from the satellites.
The GNSS signal data and measurement information will then transmit to a central processing facility. This facility will produce error corrections and status information about the GNSS satellites as a series of messages. These messages will be sent to an uplink station, which will transmit the data to a geostationary satellite. This data will then be re-broadcast as an augmentation of the GNSS satellites to all precise positioning users.
The finished system will require a wide range of skills to enable and maintain the capability.
“Once established, the staff working at the SouthPAN processing facilities will be operating and maintaining the systems, equipment and networks. This requires IT and telecommunications technicians and engineers, with TAFE-like qualifications, training, and experience with the technology,’ said Rose.
However, it is not just roles on the system itself that will be created.
“The majority of jobs that SouthPAN will create are in the broad range of sectors across the economy that benefit from SouthPAN’s services, including the mining, agriculture and construction industries. Based on the test-bed we undertook a few years ago, we know there is great potential for entrepreneurs to use SouthPAN to develop and deliver innovative positioning-based solutions creating jobs and productivity,” added Rose.
Why does improved positioning matter?
Today GNSS signals are used for all kinds of commercial and civil applications, from tracking your run to mapping the movements of cattle. The world has become reliant upon technology to improve production, reduce losses, decrease travel times, monitor air travel and everything in between. But with an accuracy of around 5 meters, it cannot be used for safety critical systems - this is something SouthPAN will be looking to change.
“From 2028 SouthPAN will be safety of life certified, meaning it can be used in safety-critical applications, enabling, for example, medivac fliers to fly in a wider range of weather conditions to land safely,” said Rose.
SouthPAN will allow aircraft to land at airports without Instrument Landing System (ILS) capability, as they will be able to navigate down to a lower altitude in a wider range of weather conditions. It will also improve safety at worksites such as mines and construction sites, as vehicles and people will be able to be tracked to their exact location, reducing the likelihood of collisions and incidents. The improved accuracy will also support the development of autonomous vehicles in the future. However whilst the safety of life certification will take some time, it is hoped that initial services will be available within weeks of the contract announcement.
The uses for improved GNSS accuracy appear to be endless with agriculture a big winner for improvements.
“In agriculture, for example, it will increase productivity in production through applications like precision spraying, yield mapping, controlled traffic farming, interrow seeding and livestock management. This is really important, especially for large parts of Australia and where we have agricultural regions that are outside of South Eastern Australia that lack that mobile on phone coverage,” said Rose.
SouthPAN will also allow for accurate applications such as Geofencing, which can prevent drones and autonomous vehicles from leaving or entering restricted areas such as commercial airspace. But it is not just the accuracy that is important, it is the reliability that matters for some of the most critical use cases. SouthPAN will provide redundancy to the GNSS enabling these safety of life applications.
“SouthPAN reflects the Australian and New Zealand governments’ shared commitment to improved space services and the industry. As we look to the future and the arrival of new and emerging space technologies, our company is committed to growing a long-term and sustainable space presence in Australia,” added Lockheed Martin Australia and New Zealand Chief Executive, Warren McDonald AO, CSC.