SouthPAN service outage following Inmarsat failure

By on 19 April, 2023

Users of the Australia-New Zealand Southern Positioning Augmentation Network (SouthPAN) Satellite Based Augmentation System (SBAS) have been left without service following a failure of the Inmarsat satellite that provides the facility.

In a statement posted on its website on 18 April (UK time), Inmarsat said that it had “experienced an outage on its I-4 F1 satellite, which provides L-band services for East Asia and the Pacific region, at 21.14 UTC on Sunday 16 April. This resulted in the temporary loss of services from the satellite and the company immediately instigated its recovery procedures.”

Geoscience Australia, the Australian lead agency for the SouthPAN program, in an email notification circulated just before 6:00pm on Tuesday, 18 April, said that “SouthPAN services in Australia and New Zealand are currently unavailable due to a service outage affecting the Inmarsat I-4F1 Satellite. We have been advised Inmarsat are [sic] working to restore services as soon as possible. We will provide a further update when we receive more information about when services are expected to resume.”

No further explanation for the loss of service has been provided, nor has Inmarsat provided an estimated time for restoration of services.

At the time of writing, no official statement had been released by Toitū Te Whenua LINZ, the New Zealand lead agency for SouthPAN.

SouthPAN broadcasts information used to improve the accuracy of positioning derived from the global navigation satellite system. Many SBAS systems are in operation around the world, but SouthPAN for Australia and New Zealand is relatively new — early Open Services went live on 26 September 2022.

According to reports in the mainstream media, the SouthPAN outage has had an immediate effect on certain sectors of the economy, such as agriculture.

A report in the Sydney Morning Herald (SMH) outlines the problems the outage is causing for farmers. “You couldn’t have picked a worse time for it,” the SMH quoted Justin Everitt, a grain grower in the Riverina and head of the NSW Farmers’ grains committee, as saying.

Farm machinery that uses SouthPAN to sow or fertilise crops to centimetre-scale accuracy, is now bereft of that ability. It is potentially costing farmers thousands of dollars.

The SMH quoted Chris Groves, chairman of the National Farmers Federation farming systems committee, describing how the reduction in accuracy can lead to planter or fertiliser machines overlapping rows during operation. He told the SMH that “My planter is 32 rows wide; if I overlap by just two rows, that is 4 per cent I am losing out on. When you’re paying $1300 [a tonne] for fertiliser, that really adds up very quickly.”

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