By Geoscience Australia

The Australian Government’s new positioning service, the Southern Positioning Augmentation Network (SouthPAN) is estimated to deliver $1.56 billion in benefits to the resources industry in Australia over the next 30 years.

Satellite positioning technologies enable the precise navigation and positioning we rely on. From smartphones to specialised equipment, we can position ourselves at the touch of a button. Positioning is increasingly being adopted by industry in Australia. It is integrated into the manufacturing process through chipsets and as separate ‘add on’ technology features to vehicles, machinery and equipment.

Autonomous vehicles, consumer robotics, maritime shipment tracking and drone-based parcel delivery services are some of the technologies that rely on accurate positioning.

How positioning is evolving

Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS) typically deliver positioning with five to ten metre accuracy. Increasingly, industry applications require higher levels of performance through augmented or precise positioning options. Consumers and businesses, including within the resources sector, rely on precise positioning to gain efficiencies and improve productivity and safety.

The Federal Government has invested in new systems and infrastructure to improve the accuracy, reliability and availability of precise positioning services – enabling three to five centimetres in areas of mobile phone coverage and delivering down to as little as ten centimetres positioning across all of Australia and offshore. In the next few years, positioning certified for safety-of-life applications will also be available.

Positioning is being used to locate trucks on a mine site at any given time, improving safety and efficiency. Credit: Geoscience Australia.

Accurate, reliable positioning across the country

In September 2022, the SouthPAN early Open Services went live. SouthPAN is a Satellite-Based Augmentation System (SBAS), comprised of reference stations, telecommunications infrastructure, computing centres, signal generators, and satellites that provide improved positioning and navigation services across all of Australia, New Zealand, and maritime regions.

SouthPAN uses distributed ground stations to monitor signals broadcast by GNSS satellites and compares each station’s known location with position data from the satellites. See Image 1.

Image 1: SouthPAN will offer accuracy down to as little as ten centimetres across Australia, New Zealand and maritime zones.

The GNSS signal data and measurement information is sent to correction processing facilities. The facilities aggregate the data from all ground stations, produce error corrections and status information about the GNSS satellites, and format the data in a standardised series of messages.

These messages are sent to an uplink station, which transmits data to a satellite in geostationary earth orbit. The data is broadcast to all precise positioning users, who combine SouthPAN’s data with their own observations of GNSS satellites.

SouthPAN is a joint initiative of the Australian and New Zealand Governments to provide SBAS services for Australia and New Zealand. Geoscience Australia as the Australian Government lead agency is working in collaboration with Toitū Te Whenua Land Information New Zealand on the development, deployment, and operation of SouthPAN, the first SBAS in the Southern Hemisphere.

Geoscience Australia’s Branch Head, Positioning Australia, Dr Martine Woolf, said that between 2017 and 2019 a SBAS test-bed project assessed the economic, social and environmental benefits of improved positioning technology through industry case study initiatives. “The SBAS test-bed project demonstrated the immediate impact that SouthPAN will have on every major industry in Australia, from road, rail, agriculture, utilities, construction, to the resources sector, and more,” Dr Woolf said.

“Precise point positioning (PPP) through SouthPAN will provide accuracy down to as little as ten centimetres, a 50 times greater precision than the current five to ten centimetre accuracy. It really is a significant difference when you do the maths and see the differences in the potential applications for industry. It is the difference between drilling a hole in the ground within five to ten metres accuracy, in comparison to as little as ten centimetres; we’re talking about a huge difference in its application.

“Additionally, regional and remote areas, as well as our maritime zones will benefit as it is a satellite-based technology that does not rely on mobile phone or internet for coverage. “Economic analysis estimated the benefits of SouthPAN to be more than $6 billion over 30 years – it’s a real game changer for our economy, providing a real impact to every major industry in Australia.”

SouthPAN early Open Services coverage. Open Services (OS)-L1 SBAS covers Australia and New Zealand up to 50 nautical miles offshore; OS-DFMC and OS-PVS cover both countries’ Exclusive Economic. More information on the services available by SouthPAN are available in the SouthPAN Service Definition Document available on the Geoscience Australia website at www.ga.gov.au/southpan Credit: Geoscience Australia.

Positioning in safety applications

Precise positioning through SouthPAN will assist in the daily operations of every major industry in Australia. Dr Woolf said that precise positioning accuracy through SouthPAN will increase safety and reduce accidents in the transport, aviation and maritime sectors.

“On our roads, SouthPAN supports cooperative intelligent transport systems as well as future industries, such as autonomous vehicles,” Dr Woolf said. “On our seas, positioning improves safety of navigation, especially in congested waters and environmentally sensitive areas, improving safety and decreasing the risk of maritime accidents.

“In our skies, from 2028, SouthPAN’s safety-of-life certified services will transform air transport, particularly in remote and regional Australia, decreasing the likelihood of flights being cancelled or diverted due to weather conditions, and minimising efforts for multiple attempts at landing.

“On our mine and construction sites, SouthPAN can increase worker safety, reducing serious injury and fatalities. For example, it is anticipated that in open pit mines fatalities can be avoided because of SouthPAN via the implementation of collision avoidance systems. Precise positioning also supports smart geo-fencing technologies that provide real-time accuracy in identifying the location of workers operating vehicles and heavy machinery, alerting if they come into close proximity. This makes operations safer and more efficient.”

Positioning for the resources industry

The benefits of positioning through SouthPAN for the resources sector in Australia are estimated to be at least $1.56 billion over 30 years. Positioning technology plays a vital role in all activities along the production chain from site surveying to precise extracting and exporting of deposits, improving mining safety and boosting the industry’s productivity and profitability along the way.

“Precise poisoning technology allows mining equipment to extract resources in exact locations in accordance with mine plans and identified mineral deposit, saving time and benefiting the environment,” Dr Woolf said. “It enables site surveying to be conducted with a high level of accuracy, ensuring areas of environmental or cultural significance are safeguarded.  It also reduces environmental incidents through the use of exclusion zones to inform and alert mine operators where is safe to move.

“This technology increases effectiveness of collision avoidance systems and the efficiency of haul truck speeds, providing drivers with greater trust in safety mechanisms. Faster speeds of mining haul trucks enabled by more accurate collision avoidance systems are projected to deliver savings of $577 million in fuel and labour costs.

“Positioning information allows mining operators to identify the location of trucks at any point in time, what they are carrying and where it is being deposited. Being able to detect idle equipment early and more easily allows mining operators to manage activities more effectively.”

SouthPAN Open Services are openly accessible across all of Australia without users needing to install additional ground infrastructure. It greatly improves access to precise positioning solutions in Australia’s remote and regional areas. “We are very much in the early days of what positioning through SouthPAN has to offer,” Dr Woolf said.

“What we do know is that it will pave the way for future innovation. There are great opportunities to integrate SouthPAN with a range of technologies to deliver safety, efficiency, automation and cost reduction in all aspects of industry applications. I would encourage anyone working within the resources industry to think about how positioning through SouthPAN could be a cost-effective option to integrate into your systems.”

For more information about how to access and services available by SouthPAN see the Service Definition Document on the Geoscience Australia website at ga.gov.au/southpan.

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