09 May Augmented-Assured-Australian (AAA) PNT
The rapid and increasing uptake of PNT applications across multiple sectors of the Australian economy shows no sign of slowing, with PNT capabilities being integrated as an operational dependency for myriad applications, as well as critical infrastructure systems such as power utilities, financial services, mobile networks and transportation. Indeed, the augmentation of global constellations with regional systems such as SBAS has only led to greater reliance on PNT, as demonstrated by federal investment into GA’s Positioning Australia program.
Consequently, to capitalise on these demands for a PNT system which is accessible, accurate and available for all Australian sectors, a major challenge will be developing an indigenous capability that ensures PNT across the nation by improving its resilience, robustness and trustworthiness over the long-term.
OPPORTUNITY FOR GROWTH
The importance of GNSS PNT capability to the success of Australia’s future has been noted previously, for example in the Australian Civil Space Strategy, where it was identified as a high priority area for growth and investment, and the Australia Academy of Science’s (AAS) 2017: A vision for space science and technology in Australia.
Positioning data derived from GNSS is considered by ANZLIC as one of Australia’s fundamental data sets, and the AAS has commissioned a new working group for PNT. These all build on previous work started in 2012 to develop the Australian Strategic Plan For GNSS, which proposed a strategic direction for Australia’s PNT that would lead to significant benefits including ‘enhanced productivity, job creation, industry growth, the identification of new export markets, increased competitiveness, improved workplace safety, enhanced national security, strengthened international linkages and a dynamic R&D sector’.
Accordingly, the 2012 Strategic Plan set-out four strategic initiatives:
(1) Ensure leadership for the Australian GNSS community;
(2) Adopt a whole-of-nation approach to a sustainable, multi-GNSS-enabled positioning infrastructure;
(3) Mitigate vulnerabilities in existing and future GNSS infrastructure; and
(4) Capitalise on Australia’s unique geopolitical and geographic advantages.
While there has been significant progress within Australia since 2021 towards achieving these four objectives, there is still considerable opportunity from harnessing the future economic, social and environmental impacts of PNT, especially given the evolution of PNT applications, advances in GNSS constellations and their visibility across Australia, therefore it is felt that the time is right to renew the Strategic Plan.
Innovating new capabilities
- Developing a sovereign capability to monitor and assess both the state of error sources affecting GNSS (as will be realised through the Positioning Australia program) and its inherent integrity is critical not only for positioning and navigation but also for the multitude of applications requiring the timing component currently supplied by GNSS.
- Delivering novel GNSS products that further contribute to our understanding of the dynamic atmosphere for weather forecasting, climatological studies, and the behaviour of the ionosphere and space weather. These products, such as GNSS derived models of atmospheric density, could afford greater resilience to our sovereign PNT capabilities. Additionally, the dynamic impacts of atmospheric effects on PNT are also experienced by other sectors within the growth pillars (Earth Observation, Satellite Communications and Space Domain Awareness (SDA)), so clear collaborative partnerships and knowledge exchange pathways are required to ensure that findings are benefitted across all industry sectors.
- Developing products and services essential for ensuring assured GNSS information for mission-critical and safety-critical PNT applications such as automated industrial machines, robotics, driverless vehicles, aircraft and infrastructure dependent on timing. Inventing, developing and delivering Australia-specific critical PNT integrity messages especially ones pertaining to high accuracy PNT services (such as RTK and PPP), could later become an industry-leading innovation to export regionally and globally further raising Australia’s PNT reputation.
Improving infrastructure, mitigating vulnerabilities and assuring access
- Development of assured PNT capabilities for Australia – meaning one that is suitably protected and secured (with authentication and possibly encryption) – to deliver the required PNT performances under adverse conditions. Assured PNT impacts all aspects of space (both downward and outward looking), and the growing spatial sector.
- Cultivating resilience across our PNT capabilities to better protect against both unintentional and purposeful interference and spoofing across all segments, including but not limited to known incidents such as solar flares, cybersecurity breaches, erroneous almanac uploads and unlikely ‘black swan’ events.
- Design and implementation of sub-metre (and even decimetre-level) accuracy GNSS systems based on low-cost mass-market GNSS receivers, enhanced via emerging terrestrial 5G telecommunications infrastructure delivering augmentation information for enhanced accuracy and integrity. Ideally, these GNSS products would be developed locally and be fully compatible with Australian PNT information and services.
- Developing and facilitating the integration of space-borne GNSS receivers aboard Australian satellites to support more applications of small satellites for communications, earth observation and PNT, and even on missions beyond Earth orbit, for so-called space service volume navigation.
- Augmenting the GNSS space segment, for example using select LEO satellites equipped with appropriate payloads, could provide increased availability of the more advanced PNT techniques (RTK, network RTK, SSR and PPP-RTK). Indeed the provision of sovereign PNT integrity messages (determined for Australia by Australia) transmitted by Australian space infrastructure, must be complemented by simultaneous transmission through secondary terrestrial communications as a robust delivery method.
- Collaborating across federal and state governments to incorporate PNT infrastructure (terrestrial and orbital) and generated services (corrections, integrity, interference) within the Critical Infrastructure Network as part of an ongoing Risk Assessment and Mitigation program.
- Develop real-time capability to detect, measure, geolocate and ultimately mitigate sources of interference and spoofing to GNSS across Australia and realise it as a ‘Nationwide GNSS Interference Monitoring Infrastructure’. Such an infrastructure could be hosted and coordinated between federal government and Defence, and report incidents of interference alongside ongoing integrity messages to the wider community, further facilitating the adoption and trust in PNT for Australia, by Australians.
- The successful augmentation of current GNSS with alternate (non-GNSS) PNT coming from emerging technologies promises even greater levels of resilience, robustness and trust around assured PNT for space and spatial sectors.
Several fundamental activities such as SBAS and NPIC are already progressing under GA’s leadership of their Positioning Australia program; by leveraging these deliverables, opportunities exist for significant growth across industries and international borders, with several having potential global outreach/impact.
To capitalise on the numerous opportunities that PNT holds for Australia, a number of governance and policy recommendations are made to facilitate engagement and ensure adoption.
1. Developing an updated ‘GNSS Strategic Plan for Promoting Enhanced PNT Capabilities across Australia’ detailing industry strategy and aligned incentive mechanisms to facilitate development of high-tech GNSS-related products, services and workforce by local companies and organisations, which endeavour to adopt the new PNT capabilities that will become available across the nation. Leadership of this strategy development will require disciplined coordination across government, Defence, industry and education.
2. Forming a multi-industry group being responsible for monitoring, marketing and evangelising all strategic PNT plans developed and in action across Australia, and providing guidance where necessary, to provide consistency, ensure clarity and eliminate duplication through effective collaboration. Ideally, this could take the form of a ‘Strategic Coordination & Engagement Group’ or ‘Task Force’ comprising federal, academic and industry representatives, would be mandated to the new GNSS Strategic Plan, and be an official first point of contact for both Australian and international queries around the PNT innovations.
3. Sustained long-term investing in training and education, as well as research and innovation, to ensure that our industry sectors and workforce possess the capacity, competency and empowerment to take advantage of the opportunities offered by an assured, resilient and augmented PNT across Australia.
4. Mobilise the PNT ecosystem by boosting investments in the research, development, and commercialisation pathways for local companies and industry to create novel high-tech PNT products & services which complement and augment GNSS (connecting upstream space segments with the big primes through SBAS for example, with the downstream markets), ultimately creating new sectors and jobs. These innovations include new quantum sensors, terrestrial positioning systems, vision and imaging sensors, signals-of-opportunity, chip-scale atomic clocks, inertial measurement units and others, along with the sensor fusion engines required to successfully integrate all these measurements together with existing PNT. Mechanisms should also be created to leverage Defence’s funding, IP and developments around assured and resilient PNT, into the civilian consumer marketplace through appropriate fast-track commercialisation pathways. New service industries utilising PNT should be fostered and encouraged to promote nationally and export internationally.
5. Encouraging international collaboration with key partners on prospective plans for new PNT capabilities – both space- and ground-based. Strengthen Australia’s capability to understand, analyse and leverage strategic advantages and opportunities of partnering on emerging technologies.