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Next generation GPS satellite aided Distress Alerting system becomes an integral part of Worldwide Search and Rescue operations

by Russel 2012-01-13 13:03

Search and rescue GPS assisted missionSatellite-Aided Search and Rescue Technology for detection and location of aircraft and vessels in distress which was originally developed by NASA has evolved into an international cooperative project to fulfill Search and Rescue objectives by enhancing the global Cospas-Sarsat system with improved space-based distress alerting and locating capability. NASA leads research and development or application of advanced technology to develop highly efficient search and rescue, survival and recovery systems. They include GPS navigation and tracking solutions, transmitters, receivers, and antennas capable of locating spacecraft, aircraft, ships, vehicles and individuals in potential or actual distress. The Satellite Aided Search and Rescue System serves search and rescue agencies worldwide with a network of 58 ground terminals. It currently has 38 participating countries, with Cospas-Sarsat payloads on 11 satellites, orbital spacecraft, instrumentation and equipment provided and supported by Unites States, Canada, France, and Russia. 

Geostationary orbit satellites have been used as key system components to detect and locate radio beacons activated by mariners, aviators and travelers in distress virtually anywhere in the world and at any time. 

Search and rescue system architecture

Thousands of lives have been saved worldwide since the search and rescue satellite-aided tracking, the SARSAT system was implemented. Geostationary orbit satellites  have a large field of view, although missing parts of the Arctic and Antarctic, but they cannot position a beacon unless its signal contains location information provided by an integral satellite navigation receiver. An extended study determined that a better SARSAT system would be one based on medium Earth orbit satellites.

A medium Earth orbit system can provide full global coverage, determine beacon location, and do this with fewer ground stations. Global Positioning System satellites constellation provides the foundation for the improved system to help mariners, aviators, and recreational enthusiasts in distress almost anywhere in the world at anytime and in almost any condition.   Included as an operational part of International Cospas-Sarsat, the Distress Alerting Satellite System is based on Global Positioning System which significantly enhances its performance. The NASA Search and Rescue Mission Office in collaboration with several government agencies including the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the U.S. Air Force and the U.S. Coast Guard has developed a next-generation satellite-aided search and rescue system, called the Distress Alerting Satellite System.  

Search and rescue GPS and beaconThe foundation of new Distress Alerting Satellite System has been established with nine GPS satellites which are hosting prototype hardware that is being used for proof-of-concept testing. The system will become fully operational after receiving complete test results that will determine the separation of search functionality out of search and rescue. The new technology will more quickly identify the locations of people in distress and reduce the risk to rescue operation teams. The SAR survival individual kit includes personal Locator Beacon and rugged waterproof GPS or floating handheld GPS navigator. The GPS satellites will have instrument clusters to relay the emergency signals from risque beacons located on the aircraft, ground vehicles, on the water vessels and in personal use. The Micro Personal Locator Beacon technology could be used as a separate tracking device or embedded in the circuitry of onboard and personal GPS navigators carried by travelers, aviators and marine enthusiasts.

NASA and participating agencies are now completing the development and testing of the new system and expect to make it operational in the coming years after a complete constellation of satellites carrying the Distress Alerting Satellite System payloads is launched. Once completed the Distress Alerting Satellite System will be able to almost instantaneously detect and locate distress signals generated by emergency beacons installed on aircraft and maritime vessels or carried by travelers greatly enhancing the international community’s ability to rescue people in distress. 

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