A true partnership to improve position, navigation and timing services in Australia

What do precision agriculture, weather predictions and synchronising financial transactions all have in common? They rely on geodesy, the science of measuring the Earth that enables all Positioning, Navigation and Timing (PNT) applications that are used in everyday life.

This exact science underpins the global geospatial economy, which has a value of at least US$1 trillion per year and is arguably the most important economic and technological development since the internet. And it is still accelerating.

Understanding how fast the Earth is spinning and the tilt of its axis is vital for multiple applications in our modern life, such as ~3 billion smartphone applications, disaster modelling, navigation assistance for the blind and the operation of our power grids.

But how do we record the spin rate and axis tilt of the ever-wobbling Earth at any specific point in time? And why is it vital for PNT applications?

There are many techniques that geodesists use to observe the Earth, but the only one that provides answers to these questions is Very Long Baseline Interferometry (VLBI).

The 12 m Patriot Antenna used for Very Long Baseline Interferometry observations at the Yarragadee Geodetic Observatory. Credit: Robert Nugent Geoscience Australia Artist in Residence 2023
What is Very Long Baseline Interferometry?

VLBI is a fundamental geodetic observation method that observes and records measurements of the Earth’s position, tilt and speed of rotation. It is the only method that does this, underlining its importance to the toolkit of geodetic techniques.

It is also the only method that measures the difference between time measured by atomic clocks onboard satellites, and mean solar time, which is important for providing synchronised time.

By using a network of radio telescopes from around the world, VLBI observes the time it takes for signals emitted from the plasma surrounding nearby supermassive black holes to reach different radio telescopes that are in different locations.

Yes, supermassive black holes.

This time difference is then used to calculate the distance between these telescopes and determine how they have moved since their last reading, informing geodesists of the Earth’s measurements at that point in time.

Geoscience Australia Director of Geodesy, Mr Nicholas Brown, explained that we need to use an external frame of reference when making measurements of the Earth’s position, tilt and speed of rotation, and that these supermassive black holes are our best indicator as they don’t really move.

“Think about standing on a roundabout at your local playground,” Nick said.

“The only way you can tell how fast you are spinning is by seeing how fast the trees fly by. These supermassive black holes are our trees.”

These measurements, called Earth Orientation Parameters, are used by Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) satellites to help geodesists understand the location-based relationship between the Earth’s position in space and the GNSS satellites that are in orbit.

Recognising how vital VLBI data is for everyday life, Geoscience Australia, AuScope and The University of Tasmania work together to operate three separate VLBI stations at geodetic observatories across Australia.

These observatories are located around the country at Yarragadee, Western Australia; Katherine, Northern Territory; and Hobart, Tasmania.

How does this data get processed?

Together, Geoscience Australia and the University of Tasmania operate the Australian VLBI Correlation Centre at the National Computational Infrastructure at the Australian National University.

Staff at the centre collaborate with partners from the International Association of Geodesy to convert VLBI data into the information needed by GNSS operators.

Currently, for global VLBI experiments, Australia is required to freight hard drives storing between 10 and 100 terabytes of raw VLBI data from geodetic observatories in remote parts of Australia to data centres in Washington, USA or Bonn, Germany.

This current method means one 24-hr session of VLBI observation data needs at least 14 days of lead time until the results are released. This significant delay is viewed as a bottleneck for VLBI correlation and means Australia is not as efficient as other global centres.

The impact of this is that geodesists are not able to monitor changes in the Earth as effectively, limiting the improvement of the resilience and accuracy of PNT services.

“The time difference information provided by VLBI should be delivered to the GNSS operation centres as soon as possible to help monitor and improve the orbits of their satellites,” Nick said.

“Not only that, but all space agencies also need VLBI to track orbits of all lunar and deep space missions, and numerous military applications require this information for their operations.

“Any delay with the VLBI information will affect satellite orbit predictions, causing a loss of precision to the navigation data that is distributed to PNT customers, including farmers, financial institutions, and weather observations.”

Farmers rely on positioning information as it enables tractors to be accurately guided along designated wheel tracks, maximising the cropping area and, as a result, improving yields. It also allows seeds to be sown precisely between rows, meaning inputs such as water, fertiliser and herbicide can be applied directly over the crop with less wastage.

Having an improved processing capability here in Australia is vital, as a loss of GNSS services would greatly impact the navigation, tracking and precision timing needed to allow these applications to work.

Not only that, but a global loss of GNSS services could cause both the UK and US economies to lose approximately US$1 billion per day.

So, to augment this process and strengthen Australia’s geodetic capabilities, Geoscience Australia, The University of Tasmania, AARNet and AuScope are working together to develop more accurate VLBI products for Australia.

These products will ultimately improve PNT services across the country, with the aim to improve speed of production, resilience and accuracy.

What is being done to improve these PNT services? What does this collaboration entail?

As part of this collaboration, Geoscience Australia has recently signed an agreement with AARNet to install new optic fibre connections and services at the Katherine and Yarragadee Geodetic Observatories. The Geodetic Observatory at Hobart has already been provided with optic fibre services.

AARNet provides Internet services to various education and research communities across Australia and will manage the high-speed services of this optic fibre connection once it has been implemented.

This upgrade will eliminate the need to freight raw VLBI data overseas, greatly reducing the wait time between the observation, processing and release of Australian VLBI data.

Therefore, PNT service providers and users will be able to access the most up-to-date precise positioning information through almost real-time processing, which will lead to faster developments of more accurate and reliable PNT products.

AuScope CEO Dr Tim Rawling believes that the optic fibre services provided by AARNet are the key to establishing a fully functional VLBI Global Observing System array, which will improve VLBI results for Australia and unlock access to improved PNT results at the 1mm level.

“We are very excited by the opportunities that near real-time delivery of VLBI data will create in Australia. Whilst the operational advantage is clear there will also be a huge impact for the research community who will now be able to rapidly access this critical data,” Tim said.

Some of the other benefits of this installation include:

  • Improvement in the accuracy of VLBI data by one order of magnitude. This is critical to meet the Global Geodetic Observing System goals of developing a reference frame accurate to 1 mm in position and 0.1 mm/yr in velocity, which is key for applications such as monitoring climate change.
  • Faster and more accurate feedback to the VLBI station operators, allowing small systematic errors or station faults to be recognised earlier.
  • Strengthening of military platforms and systems, the satellite industry, aviation, shipping, logistics, many sciences, many areas of engineering (e.g., driverless vehicles, drones, intelligent grids), precision agriculture, Smart Cities, computer/cell phone ecosystems, location-based services, significant parts of Artificial Intelligence, big data analytics, and the Internet of Things.
  • A full (continuous) operation of the Australian VLBI array that will allow for an improved comparison between VLBI and the satellite techniques, removing technique discrepancies in future.
  • Reduced need for large storage volumes at the sites of VLBI dishes.
  • Development of local expertise in all aspects of the VLBI technique, from scheduling, observation, correlation and analysis.

Geoscience Australia will continue to work with the University of Tasmania to analyse VLBI data through these newly improved stations.

“These stations form some of the most crucial geodetic infrastructure in the world, given the sparsity of VLBI infrastructure in the Southern Hemisphere,” Nick said.

“The correlation centre and optic fibre services are the last piece missing for full VLBI capability in Australia. Once active, we will be able to design and perform our own experiment series for improved results for the Australian continent and triggering development and improvements globally.”

Dr Stuart Newman

Therapeutic Innovation Australia

Since completing a PhD in Antarctic Biology from the University of Tasmania, Stuart has built up considerable experience of science policy, pharmaceutical R&D, grant funding, IP management, business development and commercialisation in the university and not-for-profit sectors.|

Stuart joined TIA as CEO in 2017. Under his leadership, TIA has focussed investment on the gap between research and development of high-value therapeutics, including pharmaceuticals, biologics, vaccines and cell & gene therapies. He also devised an innovative infrastructure access voucher scheme. He is a graduate of the Australian Institute of Company Directors

Beryl Morris

Terrestrial Ecosystem Research Network

Merran Smith

Population Health Research Network

Merran is the inaugural Chief Executive of Australia’s Population Health Research Network and chairs the PHRN Participant Council. She is a past Director of the International Population Data Linkage Network (2019-2020) and current member of the Pawsey Supercomputing Centre Board.

Merran has an extensive background in science, health, and economics with strengths in strategic leadership and many years’ experience in Australia’s health and research infrastructure systems.  She is well versed in data management and oversaw the WA Department of Health’s Health Information Centre for more than 10 years. While with the Department, she established data linkage as a core service and served on Australia’s peak national health information committees. 

Prof Michael Dobbie

Phenomics Australia

Prof. Michael Dobbie has worked to establish and operate Phenomics Australia since its foundation in 2007, serving as CEO since 2013. Prior to leading the development and implementation of these national research infrastructures, Michael was a biomedical research with a PhD in Neurochemistry from the University of London and gained over 20 Years’ experience at the bench in field including genetics, vascular biology, cancer angiogenesis, neuroscience, metabolism, developmental biology, malaria and oxidative stress.

Mark Stickells

Pawsey Supercomputing Centre

Mark is a research executive with more than 20 years’ experience working at a senior level in innovative research and business development roles in complex, multi-stakeholder environments. Through national and international programs and joint-ventures, Mark had successfully led initiatives to accelerate the impact of research, development and education programs for Australia’s key energy, mining and agricultural sectors.
He is a former Chief Executive of an LNG research and development alliance of CSIRO, Curtin University and UWA, partnering with Chevron, Woodside and Shell. Prior to his appointment at Pawsey Mark led the innovation and industry engagement portfolio at The University of Western Australia. In addition, Mark is the current Chair of the Board of All Saints’ College and was appointed an adjunct Senior Fellow of the Perth USAsia Centre (an international policy think tank) in 2017.

Craig Humphrey

National Sea Simulator

Craig Humphrey has worked at AIMS for more than 25 years. He presently serves as the Director of the National Sea Simulator, a position he has held for the last two years. During the ten years preceding his directorial role, Craig was instrumental in the initial conceptualisation, creation, and implementation of the SeaSim. Prior to joining the SeaSim team, Craig worked as an experimental scientist at AIMS for 15 years, where he conducted research on various projects including fish ecotoxicology, inshore reef biological indicators of water quality, and coral reef climate-related studies.

Wojtek Goscinski

National Imaging Facility

Prof Wojtek Goscinski, with over two decades of leadership in research and innovation, heads the National Imaging Facility (NIF), Australia’s premier imaging network. As CEO, he oversees NIF’s collaboration among universities, research institutes, and government agencies. An Adjunct Professor at Monash University, he contributes to the Faculty of Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences. Prof Goscinski’s notable past roles include founding MASSIVE, a high-impact national analytics facility. He also serves on the Scientific Advisory Committee for Euro Bioimaging ERIC and has led significant international neuroinformatics programs.

Prof Sean Smith

National Computational Infrastructure

Sean Smith commenced as Director of the NCI in January 2018 and is conjointly Professor of Computational Nanomaterials Science and Technology at ANU. He has extensive theoretical and computational research experience in chemistry, nanomaterials and nano-bio science and technology.

Dr Lisa Yen

Microscopy Australia

Lisa is currently Microscopy Australia’s Chief Operating Officer and has over 15 years of experience in university administration, strategic research management in Centres of Excellence, and operations and management of national collaborative research infrastructure. She has been with Microscopy Australia since 2019. Lisa has a doctorate in cognitive science and a first–class honours degree in psychology.

Tamin Darwish

National Deuteration Facility (ANSTO)

Tamim leads the National Deuteration Facility at ANSTO, managing its operations and scientific advancements. With a Ph.D. in Chemistry, his expertise spans deuterium labeling, NMR spectroscopy, and organic synthesis. Tamim’s research focuses on creating deuterated molecules for advanced analytical techniques. His career includes postdoctoral fellowships and contributions to the field as a member of prestigious science communities and committees. His dedication to chemistry and material science is evident in his extensive work and achievements in the field.

Michael Steer

Southern Coastal Research Vessel Fleet

Professor Mike Steer is the Research Director at the South Australian Research and Development Institute (SARDI), with over 20 years of expertise in marine science. He specialises in fish biology, fisheries science, cephalopod ecology, and fishery reform. Dr. Steer has led numerous research initiatives that have significantly advanced Australia’s seafood industry. He is known for fostering collaborations between academia and industry to address challenges in aquatic ecosystems. Prof. Steer holds a PhD from the University of Tasmania and serves on several national committees, including the National Coastal Research Vessels Working Group and the National Marine Science Committee.

Toni Moate

Marine National Facility (CSIRO)

Toni Moate is Director of the Marine National Facility and Director of CSIRO’s National Collections and Marine Infrastructure business unit. 

Toni is responsible for ensuring CSIRO’s national collections and marine infrastructure programs and research areas are effectively positioned, managed and utilised for long term financial sustainability and support science delivery in the national interest. 

Toni has extensive experience in strategic, financial, project and stakeholder management and has worked for CSIRO for over 30 years. In 2015 Toni was awarded the Public Service Medal for outstanding public service in Australian marine and atmospheric science, as part of the Queen’s Birthday Honours List. This was followed in 2017 when Toni was awarded the Tasmanian Telstra Business Woman of the Year. 

Dr Michelle Heupel

Integrated Marine Observing System

Michelle Heupel, with over two decades in marine science, leads Australia’s Integrated Marine Observing System (IMOS) at the University of Tasmania. Her work, pivotal in deploying oceanic observing equipment, supports marine and climate research. Heupel’s expertise in marine predator ecology, especially sharks, is recognized globally. She has a BSc in Zoology and a PhD in Marine Science, contributing to over 160 scientific papers. Her roles have included Vice Chair of Strategy for the IUCN Shark Specialist Group and advisor for the Ocean Tracking Network. Heupel’s dedication to marine conservation and management reflects her profound impact on the field.

Thomas McGoram

Heavy Ion Accelerators

James Whisstock

European Molecular Biology Laboratory Australia

Professor James Whisstock is based at Monash University, where he is currently an Australian Research Council Laureate Fellow, an Honorary National Health and Medical Research Council Senior Principal Research Fellow and Deputy Dean Research in the Faculty of Medicine Nursing and Health Sciences.

Ceri Brenner

Centre for Accelerator Science (ANSTO - Nuclear Science Facilities)

Andrew Gilbert

Bioplatforms Australia

Andrew Gilbert has been Bioplatforms Australia’s general manager since its inception in 2007.
He is a graduate of the Australian Institute of Company Directors. Andrew oversees the investment of $300 million in Commonwealth Government research infrastructure funding in the discovery sciences of genomics, proteomics and metabolomics.
Andrew has an extensive network of contacts from Commonwealth and State Governments, along with prominent universities, medical research institutes, agricultural research institutes and commercial entities. The Bioplatforms Australia network now supports 4500 users per annum across the spectrum of pure research to commercial production. In addition to managing the national infrastructure network, Andrew has also catalysed the formation of a series of strategic national scientific collaborations.
Each of these projects is by design multi-disciplinary, multi-institutional and contain both discovery implications and pathways to end use.

Prof Pascal Perez


Professor Pascal Perez is a specialist of Integrative Social Simulation, using Multi-Agent Systems technologies to explore complex infrastructure systems. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of NSW and the Modelling and Simulation Society of Australia and New Zealand (MSSANZ). 

Professor Perez has published 200 refereed articles and book chapters. In 2002, he received an ARC-International Linkage Fellowship to develop social modelling research at the Australian National University. In 2006, he co-edited with his colleague David Batten the book ‘Complex Science for a Complex World’ (ANU E Press).

Rosie Hicks

Australian Research Data Commons

Rosie has 20 years’ experience working in Australia’s research infrastructure sector. With a career spanning every aspect of scientific instrumentation from product development and technical marketing to managing multi-user facilities, she works across academic and industry domains to drive innovation and research translation.

Richard Dichmann

Australian Plant Phonemics Facility

Richard is committed to advancing Australian agriculture through strengthening sustainable industry partnerships and creating new business opportunities which capitalise on innovation. His career with Bayer spans more than 25 years and five countries in roles ranging from marketing, technology scouting and sustainability. Hailing from rural Victoria and educated in Melbourne, Richard obtained an honours degree in Forestry from Melbourne University and a master’s degree in Agriculture, focusing on satellite remote sensing, from the University of Sydney. Richard is a graduate of the Australian Institute of Company Directors. As Head of Public and Government Affairs ANZ for Bayer Australia and New Zealand, Richard is dedicated to increasing awareness and understanding among political stakeholders of the critical role innovation plays in meeting the food supply and health challenges of the future. Richard is a proud ambassador for Australian agriculture and is married with four children.

Dr Jane Fitzpatrick

Australian National Fabrication Facility

Jane led ANFF’s Queensland node for a number of years, joining the HQ team as its Chief Operating officer in 2012, before becoming CEO in 2021. Her responsibilities include ensuring the network performs as a cohesive and collaborative community, and maximising ANFF’s ability to support projects from academia and industry.

Prof Andy Hogg

Australian Earth System Simulator (ACCESS-NRI)

Professor Andy Hogg is a distinguished climate scientist leading the ACCESS-NRI, where he oversees the development of Australia’s advanced climate models. As a key figure in COSIMA, he contributes to ocean-sea ice model research. His role as a Chief Investigator at the ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate Extremes underscores his commitment to understanding climate dynamics and extremes. His work is pivotal in shaping Australia’s approach to climate science and modeling, reflecting his dedication to environmental research and innovation.

Jamie Schultz

Australian Centre for Neutron Scattering (ANSTO - Nuclear Science Facilities)

Dr Debbie Eagles

Australian Centre for Disease Preparedness (CSIRO)

Debbie Eagles is currently the Director of CSIRO’s Australian Centre for Disease Preparedness (ACDP). Prior to this, Debbie’s roles with ACDP included 4 years as ACDP Deputy Director and 3 years as the Research Director for the Diagnosis, Surveillance and Response (DSR) Program.

Debbie is a veterinarian by training and a World Organisation for Animal Health (WOAH) Reference Laboratory Expert on Bluetongue Virus. She is also enrolled as a WOAH and Australian Qualified Expert on the UN Secretary-General Mechanism’s (UNSGM) Roster for investigations of Alleged Use of Chemical, Biological or Toxin Weapons, has postgraduate qualifications in veterinary public health and has a special interest in interactions at the field/laboratory interface. Debbie has extensive experience in working in the Asia Pacific region, including in laboratory capacity building projects, in field investigations and through the provision of training courses.

Heath Marks

Australian Access Federation

Heath Marks was appointed by the Council of Australian University Directors of Information Technology (CAUDIT) in July 2009 to head a team to deliver the sustainable operations of Australia’s Trust and Identity services for Research and Education. This includes the national trust authentication framework the Australian Access Federation (AAF), and the Open Researcher and Contributor ID (ORCID) Consortium Lead for Australia. He is an IT professional with a wealth of management experience in the successful delivery of transformational Information Technology within the tertiary education and research sector supporting the National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy (NCRIS). Heath participates in many national and international committees and working groups on trust, identity, cyber security, and company strategy. 

Tim Rawling


Tim Rawling is the CEO of AuScope Limited. AuScope is Australia’s provider of research infrastructure to the national geoscience community working on fundamental geoscience questions and grand challenges — climate change, natural resources security and natural hazards. Prior to this role, he was Director of Infrastructure Development for AuScope’s Australian Geophysical Observing System (AGOS). His recent research has involved the development of regional/crustal-scale 3D and 4D geological models as well as new exploration methodologies involving 3D modelling and finite element simulation. Tim’s background is in structural geology and IT and he has previously worked as a consultant exploration geologist, as the manager of the 3D modelling and simulation programs at GeoScience Victoria (DPI), as the MCA funded lecturer at the University of Melbourne, a commercial programmer and as a researcher at Monash University and the University of Arizona.

Dr Andre Zerger

Atlas of living Australia

Dr. Andre Zerger is the Director of the Atlas of Living Australia (ALA). The ALA is Australia’s national biodiversity database, harmonising the nation’s biodiversity data to support world-class science and decision-making.  The ALA is hosted by CSIRO and supported by the Commonwealth Government’s NCRIS program. Andre’s background is in the spatial sciences, environmental modelling with a focus on the ecological sciences, and spatially explicit hazard risk modelling. His career has focussed on establishing high-performing teams to deliver national data infrastructure transformations that support research, environmental management, and major government policy initiatives. He has previously led similar programs and held academic positions at the Bureau of Meteorology, CSIRO Ecosystems Sciences, The University of Melbourne, and the University of California.

Andre holds a Bachelor of Science with Honours (Geography, Monash University), a Master of Applied Science (Spatial Information Systems, University of Melbourne), and a PhD (Environmental Science, Australian National University). He is a graduate of the Australian Institute of Company Directors.

Mark McAuley

Astronomy Australia

Mark McAuley has worked for thirty years in research and development environments, with responsibility for securing investments, facilitating collaborations, and executing projects. As CEO of Astronomy Australia Limited, he is responsible for the NCRIS astronomy programme. Mark has previously worked for CSIRO, and in private industry, including six years in computer-aided engineering. His experience ranges from explaining science to young children to leading financial strategy discussions concerning billion-dollar research infrastructure projects.

Mark holds a Master of Business Administration, Master of Arts (Ancient History), and Bachelor of Science with Honours (Astrophysics). Upon completion of his MBA, he received the Vice-Chancellor’s Medal from the University of Notre Dame, Australia.