The precise positioning program, explained

By on 20 April, 2017

With trials of the SBAS positioning program soon underway, specifics of the research have finally come to light- including which satellite will be involved. Image: Inmarsat


It was announced earlier this year that Australia and New Zealand will be investing $14 million in precise satellite positioning research, promising a new positioning service capable of accuracies as small as 5cm. Until now, however, the specifics of the program have not been revealed.

Last week, Geoscience Australia and CRCSI announced they are planning to spend around $3.6 million in total on the user testing of a Satellite-Based Augmentation System (SBAS) for the spatial industry in Australia. They are calling on Australian business to complete an application form by 28 April to partake in the program.

Dr John Dawson (pictured) revealed details of the SBAS trials (below).

But what exactly will such businesses be getting themselves into?

Besides the fact the program will be focussed on a Satellite-Based Augmentation System (SBAS) and, subsequently, Precise Point Positioning (PPP), many of the technical details have been missing from official communications.

Luckily, one of the key figures behind the project, Dr John Dawson of Geoscience Australia, was able to share some of the juicy details with Spatial Source.

The overall aim

Ultimately the goal is for high accuracy, high integrity positioning information to be accessible anytime and anywhere across the Australia and New Zealand region. Early estimates suggest that SBAS will provide a cost-effective way to improve GPS signals from around 5 metres in accuracy to less than 1 metre. PPP is expected to be able to achieve an accuracy of 5-10cm.

Improved positioning technology has the potential to enhance a range of applications for the spatial industry, including transport, agriculture, constructio, and resources. The less obvious benefits branch out to include personal navigation, geo-marketing, sports and wellbeing tracking, gaming and mobile workforce management.

The space infrastructure involved

One of the crucial details that was not revealed in initial announcements is which satellite (or satellites) will be involved. As the name suggests, a Satellite-Based Augmentation System relies on a satellite to transmit additional signals. These signals are needed to improve the accuracy and reliability of positioning established GNSS constellations such as GPS, Glonass and Galileo.

Dr Dawson revealed that for the Australian and New Zealand SBAS Testbed, signals will be transmitted from the Inmarsat-4F1 GEO satellite. This satellite was launched 1 March 2005 and— rather fortuitously—is located in geosynchronous orbit above Australasia and has two, currently unused, SBAS navigation antennas.

The signals will be provided at GPS L1 (1575.42 MHz) and GPS L5/Galileo E5a (1176.45 MHz) frequencies. These signals will be generated at a facility at Uralla, in the Northern Tablelands of New South Wales, using data observed by Australian and New Zealand national GNSS CORS networks together with regional GNSS data. The corrections will be uplinked from Uralla to the satellite for transmission across the region.

The adoption of SBAS will bring Australia and New Zealand into line with the United States, Europe, China, Russia, India and Japan.

Asked whether or not Australia will launch its own satellite for positioning, Dawson did not rule it out: “No decision has been made regarding the future of an SBAS capability for Australia,” he said.

“The objective of the trial is to inform government policy around satellite positioning technology,” he continued. “Consequently, no decision has been made in regards to our future space infrastructure requirements (if any).”

No decision has been made in regards to our future space infrastructure requirements” – Dr John Dawson

First transmissions of a single frequency SBAS signal are expected in June 2017, with a precise point positioning signal (PPP) available from August and the next generation dual-frequency, multi-constellation (DFMC) SBAS signal launching around October. This will be the first time in the world DFMC is available for operational evaluation.

The trials

The SBAS trial aims to demonstrate and quantify the benefits of SBAS for delivering accurate, real-time position information. Specific demonstrator projects will identify and quantify the benefits of SBAS technology to inform future Australian and New Zealand Government policy decisions.

Initially this will be conducted across nine sectors: agriculture, aviation, construction, resources, maritime, rail, road, spatial, and utilities.

The SBAS testbed will provide access to the following signals:

  • SBAS L1 Legacy Service – GPS single frequency SBAS augmentation signal transmitted on the L1 frequency. Achievable accuracy of sub-metre.
  • SBAS L1/L5 DFMC Service – GPS + Galileo dual frequency SBAS augmentation signal transmitted on the L5 frequency.
  • PPP service – GPS + Galileo precise orbits and clocks broadcast through the SBAS L1 and SBAS L5 signals. Expected accuracy of 5-10cm.

An SBAS will overcome the current gaps in our mobile and radio communications and, when combined with on-ground operational infrastructure and services, will ensure that accurate positioning information can be received anytime and anywhere within Australia. Image: Geoscience Australia

Each of the signals are scheduled to become available in the following order:

  1. 1 June 2017: SBAS L1 Legacy Service
  2. 1 August 2017: PPP Service
  3. 1 October 2017: SBAS DFMC Service

Businesses selected for the user testing will work closely with international positioning experts to trial technology that has not been widely tested in the region before. In addition to the federal agencies in Australia and New Zealand involved, it was announced that global technology companies GMV, Inmarsat and Lockheed Martin will also be involved in the project.

The funding

So far, a total of AU$14 million has been set aside for the overall project- $12 million of which was provided by Australia and another $2 million from New Zealand. Of this, $3.6 million has been set aside to support businesses taking part in the SBAS trials.

The trial will involve user testing across the nine different sectors – agriculture, aviation, construction, maritime, rail, resources, road, spatial and utilities. As such, the program has offered to provide around $400,000 of funding in each of these key areas.

Dawson explained that available funding will vary based on the scope and requirements of the project. He described the $400,000 in each sector as “provisional funding” and said that one or more projects per sector may share this funding.

Further details about the PPP part of the program is expected to be revealed closer to the signals becoming available in August 2017.

Australian business looking to get involved in the SBAS testbed are invited to complete an application form by 28 April 2017.

Clearly, this presents a gleaming opportunity for any business involved in positioning to secure a future in the market, and the funding and partners involved are only expected to grow.

Are there any further details you would like to know? If so, please let us know by leaving a comment.

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