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Australia launches regional SBAS positioning trial

By on 13 November, 2017

The Lockheed Martin facility at Uralla, NSW. Image provided by Geoscience Australia.

The Federal Government has announced a two-year trial of a new Satellite-Based Augmentation System (SBAS) for the Australasian region on Thursday, supported by an investment of $12 million in federal funds, and a further $2 million from the New Zealand government.

The trial will be the first in the world to test the Precise Point Positioning (PPP) technique’s integration in an SBAS service, and will be managed by the Australia and New Zealand CRC for Spatial Information (CRCSI), in partnership with satellite communications company Inmarsat, technology firm GMV and security giant Lockheed Martin. Land Information New Zealand (LINZ), the government department responsible for mapping landscapes and charting New Zealand waters, will oversee the New Zealand’s involvement in the project.

Businesses and organisations from ten industry sectors including agriculture, aviation, construction, consumer, maritime, rail, road, resources, spatial and utilities will also participate, with over 30 specific projects anticipated. The trial is intended to test the performance of the technology directly across industries; current industry-specific requirements and how they interact with the technology, and future industry-specific innovations that may leverage the technology. The outcome of the trial will in part determine if Australia and New Zealand should develop an operational SBAS.

SBAS is a form of GNSS augmentation — techniques to extend and improve the accuracy, reliability or availability of GNSS systems. SBAS systems use additional satellite-broadcast messages, typically utilising ground stations at surveyed points to record measurements from GNSS satellites, their signals and environmental factors that could impact them. Messages containing these data are created from these measurements that are sent to the SBAS satellites, and then broadcast to end users to improve GNSS capabilities.

Image provided by Geoscience Australia.

Matt Canavan, Minister for Resources and Northern Australia, formally launched the trial last Thursday at CQUniversity Australia, one of the first industry participants to sign on.

“We know that working closely with industries like agriculture is the key to understanding what Australia can gain from investing in technologies that may improve positioning accuracy from the current five to 10 metres down to less than 10 centimetres,” he said.

“For example, one of the projects will be examining the potential of ‘fenceless farming’ for strip grazing, while another will be looking at how crop health can be improved through more precise irrigation, fertiliser use and pest control.”

This trial will utilise the national GNSS system operated by Geoscience Australia, taking data from the AuScope GNSS array and providing it to a computation unit running GMV software, also based at Geoscience Australia. Corrections will be sent to the Lockheed Martin facility at Uralla, NSW, and then uploaded to the Inmarsat 4F1 satellite. The 4F1 satellite, orbiting at 143.5 degrees longitude, will broadcast the corrections over the Australasian region.

The three SBAS technologies to be tested are:

Single frequency service SBAS

Single frequency is equivalent to WAAS (USA SBAS) and EGNOS (Europe SBAS). This technology will improve positioning of stand-alone GPS from 5 metre accuracy to better than 1 metre accuracy.

Dual frequency/Multiple Constellation SBAS

Dual frequency is sometimes referred to as the ‘next generation’ SBAS, and will exploit the recent development of a civil frequency, known as L5 for GPS and E5a for Galileo. This capability will demonstrate significant performance improvements over single frequency SBAS, particularly in regions with dynamic ionosphere.

Precise Point Positioning (PPP)

PPP provides highly accurately position solutions, with accuracy better than 10 centimetres.

Australian GPS users should be able to track the SBAS signals from their devices and see improved positioning accuracy, however the SBAS test-bed will not be certified for safety-of-life use.

Geoscience Australia have been begun testing consumer devices for compatibility with the SBAS test-bed, and provided the following statement to Spatial Source:

‘We have now completed testing across a growing set of receivers types and models. In most cases, the tested GNSS receivers were able to correctly decode the SBAS message, apply it and achieve improved performance. However in some cases, we’ve learnt that receivers do require a firmware and/or software upgrade to allow it to track our SBAS satellite. We’re working with a number of receiver manufacturers to encourage them to support our test bed.

There are hundreds of receivers on the market and we won’t be able undertake comprehensive testing as part of the test-bed so we’d encourage users to contact their respective receiver supplier to ask for advice as to whether their equipment supports our test bed.’

Michelle Landry, Member for Capricornia, warned the Rockhampton public that a component of the CQUniversity Australia ‘virtual fencing’ project may appear a little odd.

“You may start seeing cattle and sheep with special collars in Rockhampton and Longreach. The CQUniversity-led project is testing the construction of ‘virtual fencing’ for strip grazing, and looking at how the precise tracking of livestock can be used for early disease detection and more efficient breeding programs,” she said.

“It all sounds a bit technical but what we’re really talking about is potentially increasing production and lowering costs for farmers.”

Driverless cars and autonomous transport are another industry that has been identified to be participating in the trial, and is one of the sectors that GMV operates in.

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