Report on the UN/USA International Meeting on the Use and Applications of Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS)

Hosted by the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs
Vienna, Austria, 13 to 17 December 2004

1 Introduction

This report covers the latest in a series of meetings on the use and applications of Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS) hosted by the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (UN OOSA) and also supported by the State Department of the USA. The meetings arise from recommendations of the UN Committee on the Peaceful Use of Outer Space (COPUOS), as ratified by the General Assembly of the UN. The author attended the 2004 meeting representing the International Federation of Surveyors (FIG).

The meetings involved the key players delivering GNSS components including:

  • The USA’s Global Positioning System (GPS), represented by the State Department, Department of Transport and Interagency GPS Executive Board.
  • Russia’s GLONASS, represented by Satellite Navigation Department of the Federal Space Agency and
  • Europe’s planned Galileo system, represented by the European Commission (EC) and European Space Agency (ESA)

A feature of the series of meetings has been a strong focus on improving infrastructure and capacity building for GNSS use in developing countries and countries in transition. There were delegates from many countries including: Austria, Brazil, Bulgaria, Colombia, Czech Republic, Egypt, Hungary, India, Italy, Japan, Kenya, Malaysia, Nigeria, Peru, Poland, Romania, Russian Federation, Slovakia, South Africa, Syrian Arab Republic, Ukraine, United Kingdom, United States of America and Zambia.

The global user community was also represented with major players in the many application areas, including key organisations for the surveying and mapping community:

  • The International Association of Geodesy (IAG) represented by the President (Gerhard Beutler) and Chair of Commission 1 on Reference Frame (Herman Drewes)
  • The IAG’s International GPS Service (IGS), represented by the President of the Board (John Dow) and the Director of IGS Central Bureau (Ruth Neilan) based at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory)
  • The International Cartographic Association (ICA) represented by the President (Milan Konecny)
  • The International Federation of Surveyors (FIG) represented by the Chair of Commission 5 (the author, Matt Higgins)

Highlights for the interests of FIG and the surveying and mapping community generally, can be broken into three main areas:

  1. The signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) by Sergio Camacho, the Director of UN OOSA and Holger Magel, the President of FIG. That was followed by a meeting at working level to explore concrete areas of cooperation between UN OOSA and FIG.
  2. The presentations, workshops and working groups on issues related to GNSS applications, infrastructure and capacity building globally and also with a focus on the needs of developing countries and countries in transition.
  3. The establishment of an International Committee on GNSS (ICG) under the auspices of the UN, of which FIG will be a member.

These points are detailed below.

The Memorandum of Understanding between FIG and UN OOSA

There was a brief ceremony during the first day for the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) by Sergio Camacho, the Director of UN OOSA and Holger Magel, the President of FIG. For more details, including the speech drafted by me and presented by Professor Magel, see: 

The actual MoU is available at: 

Later in the week there was a follow up meeting at working officer level to explore concrete areas of cooperation between UN OOSA and FIG. In line with the MoU the three main topics discussed were:

  • Space Science and Technology education generally;
  • GNSS education specifically and;
  • Space Technology for Disaster Management

There is an existing set of curricula for the Regional Centres for Space Science and Technology Education in 4 topics (I have a CD – they are in English, French and Spanish).

  • Satellite communications
  • Satellite meteorology and global climate
  • Space and atmospheric science
  • Remote sensing and the geographic information systems

It was decided to form a sub-group to investigate the development of a new curriculum on GNSS. It was also decided that the sub-group will review the GNSS content in the existing 4 curricula. The group will be co-chaired by Naser El-Sheimy (for FIG) and Prof Lo-Presti from Italy. This topic area is quite specific to Commission 5 content so we are happy to pursue this but there is also a need to discuss this with Chair of FIG Commission 2 on Education. The co-chairs of the sub-group are confident that they can fund most of their involvement out of their Universities. However, this work was put up as a project during the Workshop processes and UN OOSA is confident that it can find funds to assist with this process.

We also discussed Space Technology for Disaster Management. David Stevens from OOSA oversees this topic and will contact Theo Kötter to explore potential synergy between his work and the work of Theo’s FIG WG on Disaster Management. A specific action for Commission 5 is to investigate development of a simple guideline on the use of GNSS by people responding to natural disaster situations (eg for people from UN agencies using handheld GPS Receivers, maps etc when responding to an earth quake or tsunami).

The Presentations, Workshops and Working Group Meetings

The objectives of this part of the Meeting were:

  1. Review progress made in implementing the recommendations of the International Workshop, held in Vienna in December 2003;
  2. Review status of follow-up projects and potential ways and means to carry them forward in 2005 and beyond;
  3. Review any follow-up initiatives and actions resulting from the series of UN/USA Regional Workshops on GNSS;
  4. Review specific recommendations of the Action Team on GNSS and possible ways and means to implement them in 2005 and beyond.

There were many presentations on the latest status of GPS Modernization, GLONASS revitalisation and development of Galileo, the various augmentation systems around the world and key user organisations, including President of IAG and my presentation on behalf of FIG. There were also many presentations on GNSS applications issues in developing countries. I will not go into the details of these presentations here but readers are pointed to the UN OOSA web site, where these presentations are freely available, see: 

For FIG, a major issue from the Workshops and Working Group is to support development of geodetic reference frames (especially in Developing Countries) that are compatible with GNSS. The major priority here is for the African content through the existing IAG project known as AFREF. Through discussions I offered for FIG to host a meeting in Cairo of the AFREF Steering Committee and to also convene related technical sessions and perhaps a panel discussion. The FIG Working Week in Cairo is joint with GSDI8 so it is especially attractive for the AFREF project to get exposure to decision makers from GSDI. This has become an example of good cooperation between FIG, IAG and a regional project.

The International Committee on GNSS (ICG)

The third major development during the week was to work towards the final terms of reference for the establishment of an International Committee on GNSS (ICG) under the auspices of the UN. I have a seat on the ICG for FIG.

With GPS Modernization, GLONASS revitalisation and Galileo all happening in the next 5 years it is very important that FIG has strong involvement in the decision making processes about these systems and the ICG is becoming the forum for such discussions. This meeting saw the key players from the Workshop (eg USA, Russia and EU), giving strong support for the formation of the ICG and importantly there was also representation from the Space Agencies of China, India, Japan and Canada.

The forming members of the ICG are invited to another meeting in Vienna in March 2005 to finalize the Terms of Reference. A detailed proposal on the official formation of the ICG can then go to the UN Committee on the Peaceful Use of Outer Space (COPUOS).

Matt Higgins
Chair of Commission 5 of the International Federation of Surveyors and
Senior Surveyor Department of Natural Resources and Mines,
Queensland Government, Australia