Transtasman partnership develops world-class technology

Southland may seem an unassuming base for a world-class satellite positioning service, but Awarua is the perfect home for it, according to stakeholders.

Land Information Minister Damien O’Connor turned the first sod to mark the beginning of the construction of New Zealand’s first uplink centre for the Southern Positioning Augmentation Network (SouthPAN) at a ceremony yesterday.

More than 30 locations around the country were considered before Awarua was chosen for its geographical benefits to the technology, including its flat landscape.

The world-class satellite positioning service is intended to support safer search and rescue, boost precision farming, aid driverless vehicles and help safety on construction sites through greater accuracy. It is an open access digital infrastructure that will allow entrepreneurs to provide new services, with an estimated $860 million benefit to the economy in the long term.

"This is one step forward for us providing a platform for new technology that sometimes we don't know about, but someone is going to invent. This will provide that platform for them to develop it further," Mr O’Connor said.

"We've seen in Southland a number of initiatives, you can go back to Burt Munro and what he did. This is one more step providing opportunities from Southland for the rest of New Zealand, but also for Australia through the collaboration the partnership."

Minister Damien O’Connor (right) and Lockheed Martin Space regional director Australia and New...
Minister Damien O’Connor (right) and Lockheed Martin Space regional director Australia and New Zealand David Ball turn the sod to mark the beginning of construction at Awarua. PHOTO: BEN TOMSETT

For farmers and growers in Southland and around the country, that means invisible fences and drone-based spraying will be more efficient and accessible.

Southland Mayor Rob Scott said the project showed the region was punching above its weight in innovation.

"On a world-wide scale, it’s a huge project ... We’re right on that edge of leading the way on the worldwide stage."

The project has been a joint venture between the New Zealand and Australian governments, with Australia contributing up to 75% of the cost.

The 25% contributed by New Zealand cost more than $700 million, although Mr O’Connor said the true potential of the venture had not yet been fully realised and may go beyond its 20-year lifespan.

Two 11m antennae are being built by project contractor Lockheed Martin Australia and will link to a control centre in Invercargill, monitored by operators 24 hours a day.

“By telling us exactly where we are, SouthPAN will help us tell a story of who we are and how we farm," Mr O’Connor said.

SouthPAN is also a joint venture with the Australian government to bring high resolution positioning to Australasia.

Space Operations New Zealand chief executive officer Robin McNeill said some of the service’s customers already hoped to bring some staff to Invercargill.

"There’s actually quite a growing space community that most people don’t know about."

As for those who may be cautious about the intentions of the facility, Mr McNeill said it strictly commercial and "didn’t do spies, didn’t do military".

"If people want to see what we’re up to, they can even arrange a visit."

SouthPAN is being delivered by Toitū Te Whenua Land Information New Zealand and Geoscience Australia, in partnership with the Australia New Zealand Science, Research and Innovation Co-operation Agreement.

The Southland SpaceOps NZ Satellite Ground Station Awarua facility will form a vital component of SouthPAN, working in tandem with an existing centre in New South Wales.