Construction begins on new, more accurate GPS system in Southland

Sun, Mar 26

A new, more accurate GPS system is being set up in Southland, with hopes it could have huge and widespread benefits.

The trans-Tasman collaboration will see global positioning improved to within just a few centimetres.

"It's the next best things since GPS has happened for rescue helicopters," pilot Rob Arrowsmith said.

The system's called SouthPAN. It improves New Zealand's current GPS infrastructure with upgraded satellite receivers, bringing the margin for error in global positioning down from about 5-10 metres to just 10 centimetres.

As well as benefits for rescue helicopters, the system's advantages could include farmers running GPS powered tractors or managing livestock with GPS collars. Ship tracking would significantly improve and regional flights could operate in poor visibility.

"It's been something that's been happening overseas in North America and Europe for about ten years now," Arrowsmith said.

"It's allowing them to get more patients, more often, and give more certainty that they'll be treated despite the bad weather."

The plan is to build two dishes, along with a control centre to be operated 24 hours a day.

"We'll get six people to operate the mission control centre to keep it all going," Space Operations NZ CEO Robin McNeill said.

New Zealand's contribution will be about $700 million, with about $850 million expected in returns over 20 years.

The total cost will be about $1.5 billion with Australia's contribution, Australian Deputy High Commissioner Amy Guihot said.

"I don't think we could afford to do it on our own," Land Information Minister Damien O'Connor said.

"The platform will provide potential opportunities for new businesses, not just the ones that take it up now," he added.

The network is planned to be online by 2028.


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