The outback at night with the Milky Way galaxy

Enhanced Position and Navigation Technology on Its Way “Down Under”

Australia and New Zealand have set course toward a global navigation satellite system with much greater accuracy than is possible in the Southern Hemisphere today. MITRE technical know-how is helping these nations achieve their goal. 

Australia and New Zealand are hard at work on a system that will enhance the global navigation satellite system (GNSS) position and navigation information their pilots, drivers, ship navigators, and many industries rely on every day. MITRE is lending its expertise to this transformative effort.

The two countries currently use signals from two GNSS—the U.S. GPS and Europe’s Galileo—for navigating their skies, roadways, and seas. But these systems have limitations. The position accuracy GPS and Galileo provide is in the range of 5 to 10 meters. Geoscience Australia (GA) and Land Information New Zealand (LINZ) want to improve that. That’s why they've partnered to develop a system that can provide far greater accuracy and reliability across both countries, as well as the maritime regions surrounding them.

The system is called the Southern Positioning Augmentation Network, or SouthPAN. A satellite-based augmentation system (SBAS), SouthPAN will be the first such system in the Southern Hemisphere. 

“SouthPAN is set to be a game-changer for Australia and New Zealand,” says Jianming She, who leads the MITRE team supporting the effort. “The system promises to enhance safety, efficiency, and economic outcomes across aviation, surface transportation, and maritime sectors.”

The augmentation system will also have applications for non-transportation sectors, such as construction and agriculture. For example, crop dusters equipped with GPS can fly more-accurate paths, applying chemicals only where needed. The technology also allows farmers to keep working in low-visibility situations, such as fog or darkness. 

In construction, GPS allows companies to monitor the use of their construction equipment, which can enhance safety, inform maintenance schedules, and reduce downtime.

MITRE Brings a Wealth of Aviation Experience

GA and LINZ have selected Lockheed Martin Australia to develop the SouthPAN system over the next five years. They selected MITRE as their technical adviser on the project, based on our extensive prior experience in SBAS implementations—in the U.S., Japan, India, and Korea. 

“We’re bringing all that experience to bear on the SouthPAN system to ensure it's the best it can be,” She says.

“Our not-for-profit status—combined with our deep involvement in global aviation standards development—allows us to provide objective and unmatched technical and operational guidance on SBAS implementation and certification processes,” adds systems engineer Uma Ferrell, a leading expert on the MITRE SouthPAN team.

We’re bringing all our experience to bear on the SouthPAN system to ensure it's the best it can be.

Jianming She, Systems Architecture, Principal

How SouthPAN Works

When SouthPAN is fully implemented, Australia and New Zealand will join the many other countries who have implemented an SBAS to improve the accuracy and integrity of GNSS position and navigation information.

These systems use a network of ground stations to monitor signals broadcast by GNSS. 

“Since we know the exact position of each of these ‘reference’ stations, we can compare that to the satellite information about the stations’ locations,” She explains. “Corrections are then calculated and sent to a geostationary satellite, which broadcasts the corrections—along with system integrity information—to the users.”

“SouthPAN increases GNSS accuracy for a wide range of applications, such as precision agriculture, construction, automation, intelligent transport systems, and location-based services on smartphones,” says Ferrell. “This increased accuracy is imperative to make these applications feasible.” 

For instance, increased position accuracy will enable ships to more precisely navigate crowded harbors. It will allow increasingly automated vehicles to travel more safely on busy roadways. And pilots will be able to fly more-precise paths, which could improve both aviation safety and efficiency.

However, those benefits will be realized only if the contractor-developed algorithms designed to detect and correct errors in the system are accurate. 

“Those algorithms are at the heart of the SouthPAN implementation,” Ferrell says. “So, as they’re being developed, MITRE experts are participating in evaluating them to ensure they're put in place correctly.”

Building a Strong Safety Case

The algorithms under development must address not only system accuracy but also its integrity. 

“Integrity is different from accuracy,” She says. “Integrity refers to the trustworthiness and reliability of the system to provide accurate navigation. In other words, it’s about how much the user can trust the information they obtain from the system—and how soon they can be informed if the system is not reliable.” 

For instance, if some of the satellites being used to triangulate a user’s position are malfunctioning, that can lead to what is known as ‘hazardously misleading information.’ “That’s a very dangerous situation, especially in aviation,” Ferrell says. “So, we are very conscientious about offering advice for mitigating it in the SouthPAN system through our evaluations.”

While essential, algorithm evaluation is just one aspect of MITRE’s many-faceted role.

“We’re advising GA and LINZ on system requirements, verification and validation methods, safety and certification standards, and much more,” Ferrell says. “The intent of all of our work is to enable GA and LINZ to make a strong safety case for the system when it’s taken to regulators for certification.”

SouthPAN Forwards International Aviation Goals

MITRE’s work to support SouthPAN system excellence, certification, and implementation also has benefits that reach far beyond Australia and New Zealand. 

“As the operator of the Federal Aviation Administration’s federally funded research and development center, our SouthPAN work supports the FAA’s goal of improving the safety, efficiency, and harmonization of airspace systems worldwide,” She says.

“We’re using our broad knowledge of global aviation to ensure that local requirements for SouthPAN are examined within the context of international standards,” adds Ferrell. 

“There are many SBAS across the world, and we’re part of a global collective working to enable connections for users transiting from one region to another. The ultimate goal is a seamless experience for the user.”

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