Major GNSS Project to Boost Potential for ‘Satellite’ Farming in Brazil

The University of Nottingham is working with Brazilian and EU partners to solve atmospheric interference problems that hamper satellite-based positioning in equatorial countries like Brazil.

The research network will support the advancement of precision agriculture, which aims to make crop farming practices cheaper, greener, and more efficient, using satellite positioning and remote sensing.

These technologies rely on Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS) — such as the U.S. GPS and the new European equivalent, Galileo — to obtain centimetre-accurate coordinates on Earth. Farmers then use this real-time precise data to optimize fertilizer use, to steer driverless machinery, and for soil mapping to maximize crop production in a bid to feed an ever-rising world population.

Despite its revolutionary potential, precision agriculture adoption rates in countries on equatorial regions such as Brazil are hindered by specific phenomena in the earth’s upper atmosphere (the ionosphere), known as ionospheric scintillation.

Ionospheric scintillation affects the integrity, availability, and accuracy of satellite positioning. Specifically, it causes interference with the propagation of satellite signals as they pass through the ionosphere, making it difficult for GNSS receivers to lock onto satellites and track their signals. This results in not only large errors but at times to complete service outages.

“The strong signal fluctuations that characterize ionospheric scintillation are caused by the irregular behavior of the ionosphere that is typical of the equatorial latitudes, affecting most of the Brazilian territory, hence the importance of the bi-lateral collaboration in the PEARL network,” explains project leader, Dr. Marcio Aquino from the Nottingham Geospatial Institute at the University.

The PEARL network, which is funded by the European Commission’s INCOBRA project, aims to tackle this problem head on to ensure high accuracy positioning by satellite is robust and achievable in real time in Brazil.

“Solutions arising from the research will have a positive impact not only in Brazil but in the whole of Latin America, due to its geographical location near the equator and corresponding disruptive ionospheric effects.

“It could play a pivotal role in promoting the uptake of satellite-based positioning and the broad acceptance of the new EU system Galileo, paving the way for service implementation in other similarly affected parts of the world, such as southern China, India, Indonesia, and Malaysia,” Dr. Aquino adds.

Research and industrial partners from both Europe and Brazil will come together on the seven-month initiative to develop strategies to map the causes of ionospheric scintillation and specialized algorithms to model and mitigate their effects on satellite-based positioning. These strategies will be part of a large Brazil-EU collaborative proposal to be submitted to the forthcoming H2020 SPACE-EGNSS call due out in October 2018.

Network members include small to medium enterprises in Europe and Brazil that are keen to incorporate new solutions that will improve their satellite-based services.

The PEARL network encompasses:

  1. University of Nottingham, UK; Sao Paulo State University and Universidade do Estado de Mato Grosso, Brazil
  2. National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology and SpacEarth Technology (an SME), Italy
  3. Space Research Centre of Polish Academy of Sciences, Poland
  4. Three SMEs: Geo++, Germany and Alezi Teodolini and MC Engenharia Ltd, Brazil

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