The South African National Space Agency (Sansa) is continuing to develop the concept of a South African satellite navigation augmentation system. This has an initial primary, but by no means exclusive, focus on the aviation sector, which would greatly benefit from such a system.
Since the development of the original US Global Positioning System (GPS) in the 1990s, satellite navigation systems have become ubiquitous. In addition to GPS, there is Russia’s Glonass, which is now fully operational again, and Europe is deploying its Galileo navigation satellite constellation, which should become fully operational in 2018. In addition to these global networks, a number of countries are deploying systems that will, at least in the beginning, be more regional in scope. These include China, India and Japan.
However, there are various factors which degrade the performance of such systems, including interference from the ionosphere (which varies significantly depending on location: it is very bad in the equatorial regions, for example) and the number of satellites that can be observed from a location. Because of these problems, satellite navigation augmentation systems have been developed, which increase the accuracy of the various GPS systems. There are different categories of such augmentation systems, and one of these categories is Space-Based Augmentation. Sansa is focusing its efforts on the development of such a Space-Based Augmentation System (SBAS) for South Africa and later Southern Africa. SBAS best meets the needs of aviation.
The project is being developed in cooperation with the European Union (EU). The aim is to use technology developed for the European Geostationary Navigation Overlay Service (Egnos). “Egnos can’t simply be extended to Southern Africa because we don’t see the same constellation of satellites,” explained Sansa Space Operations Chief Engineer Eugene Avenant at a recent Sansa SBAS seminar at the Innovation Hub in Pretoria. “Also, trying to extend Egnos to Southern Africa would require the recertification of the entire system.”
South African interest in SBAS officially started in 2010. It soon became clear that very few people in the country were familiar with SBAS, so Sansa has been focusing on providing training in the field, under the SBAS Awareness and Training South Africa (Satsa) programme. Four Training Working Sessions were held under Satsa last year, three in South Africa and one in Spain. These training sessions involved personnel from Sansa, Air Traffic & Navigation Services, the Civil Aviation Authority of South Africa, the Peace Parks Foundation and the vehicle tracking company Tracker. “The training was very successful,” reported Avenant. “We now have a local core of experts.”
In addition to capacity building, Satsa is also concerned with developing a consolidated road map for a South African SBAS and to promote Engos and Galileo technologies in this country. “South Africa will use the same technology as Egnos, but it will be a stand-alone system,” he stated.
Regarding the South African aviation sector, an SBAS cost/benefit analysis has been conducted. “We’re looking at about 7 000 aircraft across South Africa – commercial, business aviation and general aviation,” cited ND Consult director Dr Nina Costa, who carried out the study and who also spoke at the Sansa SBAS seminar. “Aviation will benefit enormously from a South African SBAS.”
She calculated that, over a 30-year period, the accumulated quantifiable undiscounted benefits for the whole South African aviation sector would come to some R6.23-billion while the costs would be around R1.17-billion. In discounted terms, the sector would still enjoy benefits that would exceed costs by around R200-million. “Of course, the benefits and costs have different timings!”
The quantifiable benefits include increased operational efficiency and improved routing allowed by the greater precision provided on aircraft positions. The costs are the equipping of aircraft with the SBAS equipment, the implementation of the requisite procedures and training at airports, the deployment of the ground infrastructure and the operating and maintenance costs. Moreover, it would provide “integrity”, showing, at any time, whether the satellite navigation system could be relied on or not (for example, in the case a satellite malfunctions).
However, there are also unquantifiable benefits. One is increased safety, including for general aviation. Another is the possibility of opening of smaller air- fields, currently limited to good weather daylight operations due to lack of sophisticated instrumentation, to regular scheduled flights (using the great accuracy of SBAS to allow aircraft to safely operate in more adverse conditions). The Civil Aviation Authority of South Africa has estimated that there are some 15 to 20 airfields in South Africa in this category.
Furthermore, there is also the potential of an SBAS to stimulate industrial and economic growth. This could happen both through stimulation of aviation operations and through application of the technology to other sectors. SBAS technology is also applicable to precision agriculture, road and rail transport, ports and maritime operations, asset tracking and infrastructure construction, among others.
Because a local SBAS would be safety critical for the aviation sector, it is likely that it would be operated by an aviation agency, such as Air Traffic & Navigation Services. South Africa is still a couple of years away from formally launching a national SBAS programme (as distinct from laying the foundations for such a programme).