This page belongs to: Action Plan for Critical Technologies

Satellite positioning and navigation

Networks of satellites that broadcast precise time signals and other information, which Earth-based devices can use to calculate their location and for navigation. Advanced systems enable greater location accuracy and faster location finding, and greater resistance to unintentional signal interference and intentional jamming or spoofing.

Key sectors

Impacts all sectors, including:

  • Agriculture, Forestry and Fishing
  • Banking and Finance
  • Communications
  • Construction
  • Defence and Defence Industry
  • Education and Research
  • Energy and Environment
  • Health
  • Manufacturing
  • Mining and Resources
  • Space
  • Transport and Logistics

Estimated impact on national interest

Economic Prosperity - High
National Security - High

Key Australian Government actions

Initiatives

  • National Infrastructure Positioning Capability (NPIC)
  • Southern Position Augmentation Network (SouthPAN) – Australian and New Zealand Satellite Based Augmentation System collaboration
  • Ginan: software toolkit and service

Regulations

  • National Measurement Act 1960
  • National Measurement Regulations 1999

Example outcomes

  • More capable and trustworthy automated resource extraction, enabling a more competitive resource sector
  • More reliable automated vehicles, able to determine their location accurately even in traditionally hard-to-reach environments
  • A safer defence force, with navigation devices which are resistant to location jamming or spoofing
  • Greater convenience for consumers, with devices determining their location more quickly and accurately
  • More reliable and efficient transport and logistics networks that are better able to transmit location details
  • More accurate tracking of automated capital equipment to prevent damage
  • Accurate automated land and animal management. including weed and pest management, cropping and water management and animal welfare solutions
  • Better knowledge of the precise locations of space and ground assets

Underpinning science

ANZ Standard Research Classification

  • Aerospace engineering
  • Aerospace transport
  • Applied mathematics
  • Astronomical sciences
  • Computer science
  • Human-computer interaction
  • Cybersecurity
  • Data privacy
  • Pulsar astronomy
  • Software engineering
  • Data management and data science
  • Electronics, sensors and digital hardware
  • Communications engineering
  • Electrical engineering
  • Optical physics
  • Geoinformatics
  • Geomatic engineering

Example applications

Readiness Level – Now

  • Navigation tools for transport and logistics, including optimal routing and asset tracking
  • Positioning, navigation and timing (PNT) certification in financial transactions
  • Spatiotemporal analytics, for example to understand wildlife migration patterns and predict future positions
  • Surveying and mapping
  • Animal welfare management in agricultural settings
  • Automated weed and pest and land use decision making
  • Livestock and wildlife tracking via location markers in or on animals
  • Secure PNT using pulsar signals on Earth and beyond

Readiness Level – 2–5 years

  • Enhanced digital identity management using location information
  • More resilient and available information services due to convergent timing, communication and sensing satellite systems
  • Broader access to PNT in remote and challenged environments (mountainous terrain, indoors, etc.) through novel satellite signal processing
  • Hybrid PNT using satellites, pulsar astronomy and quantum technology in challenged environments
  • Improves safety and road management using vehicle location data

Readiness Level – Beyond 5 years

  • Fast, secure financial transactions (digital money with PNT anti-fraud authentications)
  • Digital twin of the entire globe as a virtual world (including scenario modelling)
  • Off earth position and navigation infrastructure in moon, Mars and beyond
  • Coordinated space time coordinates for Australian satellites

Australia's place in the world

Australia ranks 7th for research impact, led by the University of New South Wales, which ranks 13th internationally. Internationally, China has the highest research impact, followed by the United States. China has 5 of the top 10 research institutions and the United States, France and Germany constitute the remainder of the top 10. Venture capital is led by the United States followed by China, and has been growing at 40% p.a. since 2016. Globally, new patents lodged have been increasing by 10% since 2016. China has the most, followed distantly by the United States. Australia ranks 12th in patents lodged, and is unranked for venture capital.

Satellite positioning and navigation are an important part of Australia’s commercial activities, including our reliance on PNT in agriculture infrastructure enabling crop harvest with minimal human intervention. We conduct world-leading research in this field, and our various commercial and defence interests are supported by international partners providing us access to their existing PNT satellite networks.

Opportunities and risks

Advancements in satellite positioning and navigation systems promise to increase the accuracy of spatiotemporal data for use in predictive models, and for autonomous systems, it also underpins precision timing that is required across all sectors of the economy. It further allows machines that require highly precise and accurate location information to do more work, including optimising resource extraction. Precise location signals can enable financial institutions to improve fraud detection services. Increased accuracy in positioning and navigation will create greater efficiencies, including time and fuel consumption for logistics and transport. This technology opens up numerous opportunities in the agriculture and environment sectors as well, for example, improved agricultural and natural environment performance by removing the ‘human decision making’ component of agricultural production by automating land management.

Many current technologies, supply chain logistics, businesses and critical infrastructure rely heavily on the existing satellite position, navigation and timing (PNT) infrastructure, which may make them vulnerable if this infrastructure is disrupted or destroyed. The loss of this capability could cause physical and economic damage and undermine Australia’s national security. PNT satellites form constellations in Medium Earth Orbit (MEO) and there is intense competition and a lack of shared responsibility for the management and preservation of this part of the space domain, resulting in increased congestion. Satellite infrastructure is also vulnerable to other physical risks, such as solar storms and high-altitude electro-magnetic pulse devices. Satellites are also not impervious to cyber-attacks, and so various threats must be mitigated, including denial-of-service attacks, and spoofing of various kinds.

Research impact (RI)

China has the highest research impact in this area, ahead of the United States. Australia is ranked 7th. Total volume of published research has been increasing at 8% p.a. over the 5 year period 2016–2020, with 20% of research involving international collaboration.

  1. China - 20747
  2. USA - 14554
  3. Germany - 7209
  4. Italy - 5517
  5. UK - 5498
  1. Australia - 3925

The research impact provides an indication of the productivity of a country or institution. Here, productivity was assumed to be represented by the volume of publications (i.e. scholarly output) as an indicator of the resources & facilities, and the level of interest in the publications as an indicator of quality.

VC investment

Australia is unranked for VC investment in this area. Investment has been growing at 40% p.a. since 2016. The United States has the highest amount of VC investment, ahead of China.

  1. China
  2. USA
  3. R. of Korea
  4. Taiwan
  5. Japan
  • (unranked) Australia

Data from Crunchbase. The Crunchbase database provides a partial view of the global VC landscape. However the quantity, quality and richness of the data are considered to be statistically significant, and indicative of global trends.

Patents - international

The number of patents being lodged annually in this field has been increasing by 10% p.a. since 2015. Most patents in this field were filed by applicants or inventors from China, over 3 times more than the United States. Australia is ranked 12th.

  1. China - 18635
  2. USA - 5258
  3. R. of Korea - 2638
  4. Taiwan - 1525
  5. Japan - 1370
  1. Australia - 132

Research institutions - international

China has 5 of the global top 10 institutions, including the top 3. Germany, France and the United States make up the remaining institutions in the top 10.

Rank Top International Institution Research Impact
1 Wuhan University | China 4547
2 Chinese Academy of Sciences | China 3316
3 Beihang University | China 2199
4 Helmholtz Centre Potsdam - German Research Centre for Geosciences | Germany 2190
5 German Aerospace Center | Germany 1957
6 Tsinghua University | China 1937
7 University of Chinese Academy of Sciences | China 1743
8 French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) | France 1480
9 California Institute of Technology | United States 1320
10 Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology | United States 1302

Research institutions - Australia

Within Australia, the University of New South Wales has the highest research impact. Three Australian institutions are ranked in the international top 50 – University of New South Wales 13th, Curtin University 23rd, and Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology University 43rd.

Rank Top Australian Institution Research Impact
1 University of New South Wales 1051
2 Curtin University 683
3 Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology University 550
4 Queensland University of Technology 290
5 University of Technology Sydney 257
6 University of Melbourne 192
7 University of Sydney 188
8 University of Tasmania 132
9 Monash University 123
10 CSIRO 72

Patents - Australia

Top Australian Patent Applicants Patent Families
Myriota 4
Defendtex 2
Propeller Aerobotics 2
Spatial Information Systems Research 2

A number of Australian businesses have one patent family recorded in this technology area.

Patents filed by Australian businesses, 2015–2019.