Under the federal government’s 2018 budget, Geoscience Australia will receive a whopping $260 million to overhaul satellite-based positioning and data provision services for Australian GNSS and spatial data users.
The investment will task Geoscience Australia (GA) with overhauling our space-based positioning infrastructure, which has indicated that it will allocate $224.9 million to the task.
Of this figure, GA will use $160.9 million to develop a dedicated Australian SBAS (Satellite Based Augmentation System) to improve the accuracy of GPS coverage, which will deliver a claimed 10 centimetre accuracy across Australia and its maritime zone.
The remaining $64 million will be directed towards developing National Positioning Infrastructure Capability (NPIC) to deliver a claimed 3 centimetre precision in areas with mobile coverage. Geoscience Australia said this will comprise of a ground station system and positioning software for industry, with some of this funding to go towards initiatives to boost coordination between business and government.
In announcing the investment, minister for Resources and Northern Australia Matt Canavan said that the improved positioning will improve productivity and facilitate the creation and uptake of new technology.
“Our investment in this world-standard technology will have direct benefits including virtual fencing for farms and better management of cattle and livestock over vast distances,” he said.
“It also has applications for regional aviation such as improved access to regional areas by enabling planes to land on smaller airstrips and navigate difficult terrain such as canyons,” referencing two of the industry trials for SBAS currently operating under a $14 million scheme in Australia and New Zealand.
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Dr. Graeme Kernich, CEO of CRCSI, which has been managing the 28 projects in the SBAS industry testbed, said that the funding of the NPIC in particular was the culmination of a decade’s effort.
“It was the CRCSI that first conceived the idea of a nationwide integrated precise positioning framework back in 2008. This subsequently became known as the NPI and has since been led by Geoscience Australia to operationalise the research,” he said.
“One of the grand challenges the CRCSI set with its partner base was to conduct research that solves impediments to the creation of a sparse, continental-scale, precise positioning NPIC. Our research teams at Curtin University, RMIT, QUT, and University of New South have been integral to the developments that have underpinned the NPI. We are delighted to see it being funded.”
Digital Earth Australia receives full funding
Another spatial initiative proved a winner in the 2018 budget, Digital Earth Australia. Announced in the 2017 budget with $15.3 million in initial investment, the world-first initiative to provide a satellite imagery analysis platform will now receive a further $36.9 million over the next four years.
“The practical benefits of this investment will extend across our economy. This data will help researchers, governments and business better understand environmental changes, such as coastal erosion, crop growth and water quality,” Minister Canavan said.
This commitment to the ongoing development of an open repository for over three decades of satellite data is a windfall for local spatial service providers.
STEM a winner in 2018 budget
These grand investments in spatial data and service delivery initiatives come as part of a budget heavy on tech and science investment, with $2.4 billion allocated to science and technology capabilities in total.
$1.9 billion of this will be dedicated to developing a national research infrastructure over 12 years, aimed at supporting research and its commercialisation. Beyond this, $2 billion for medical research has been made available through the Medical Research Future Fund, and $500 million for improving the resilience of the Great Barrier Reef.
Science and Technology Australia CEO Kylie Walker was largely upbeat on this year’s budget allocations for science-focused initiatives.
“The 2018 Budget indicates the Government has listened to the need to restore support for major science agencies and invest in research infrastructure to position Australia as a leader in global science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) research and innovation,” she said.
“A return to keeping pace with CPI is very welcome for the Australian Research Council and other research agencies like the CSIRO. We’re also pleased to see a boost for measures to engage and inspire all Australians with STEM, as well as specific measures to support greater participation by girls and women in STEM.
“However we note the future STEM workforce still requires attention – STEM graduate rates are threatened by continued capping of commonwealth support for undergraduate places at Australian Universities. Australia will need many more people equipped with STEM skills in our workforce to compete internationally. This short-term saving will be a loss for future generations.”