Galileo search-and-rescue service officially launched

April 6, 2017  - By
The European Union's SAR zone.

The European Union’s Galileo search-and-rescue zone.

The Galileo Search And Rescue (SAR) service, made possible by the Galileo satellite constellation, is now active.

Galileo SAR is Europe’s contribution to the COSPAS-SARSAT network, a distress alert detection and information distribution system best known for detecting and locating emergency beacons activated by aircraft, ships and hikers.

By providing COSPAS-SARSAT with the coverage capacity of the Galileo constellation equipped with SAR transponders, Europe is helping to reduce the detection delay of a distress signal from up to several hours to 10 minutes.

A return link, a signal informing the person in distress that the signal has been received and localized, will be added to the system by the end of 2018.

Beacon Awareness Day

The Galileo SAR launch day, April 6, is Beacon Awareness Day in the United States. It’s also named 406 day. 406 stands for 4/06 — the date in U.S. format — and the 406-MHz frequency of the SARSAT beacons.

For Twitter and social media, special hashtags #406day, #406day17 and #savedbythebeacon already exist. The program has added the hashtag #getabeacon to complement it.

The following video about the program focuses on maritime operations, which account for 75 percent of the alerts.

Coming to the Rescue

With Galileo, the time to identify the location of a beacon signal is reduced from several hours to a few minutes. At sea, this makes SAR rescue operations easier thanks to a narrowed “search box,” since the vessel in distress has less time to drift.

On land, the quick acquisition of a precise position enables rescue teams to more quickly reach the operation zone and assist the victims.

In the air, Galileo contributes to fulfilling International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) requirements for implementing the next-generation emergency management system Global Aeronautical Distress and Safety System (GADSS). In particular, it enhances location of an airplane in distress, which will be mandatory on Jan. 1, 2021.

The Search And Rescue transponders on Galileo satellites can pick up signals emitted from any 406-MHz distress beacon anywhere in the service coverage area and transmit this information to the dedicated ground stations (MEOLUTs). The SAR/Galileo infrastructure is interoperable with GPS and GLONASS SAR transponders.

Once the beacon is located by the MEOLUTs, the location data is sent to the COSPAS-SARSAT mission control centre (MCC), which distributes it to the relevant rescue centres. The rescue centres, under the responsibility of national competent authorities and administrations, then coordinate the required rescue efforts.

Improving COSPAS-SARSAT

Galileo plays an important role in the Medium Earth Orbit Search And Rescue system of COSPAS-SARSAT (MEOSAR), and provides a ground segment coverage of 40 million square kilometers over Europe as a contribution to MEOSAR global coverage.

Thanks to the advanced European technology used, integration of Galileo into COSPAS-SARSAT improves the system by:

  • enabling faster detection and localization of distress signals anywhere in the service coverage area, reducing the delay between beacon activation and distress localization
  • making it easier to find the source of a signal by significantly boosting precision in comparison to the current situation
  • increasing availability and improving detection of signals in difficult terrain or weather conditions.

The Galileo Search And Rescue service is one of the three services launched in December 2016 with the Initial Services. The SAR service represented just 1 percent of total Galileo program costs, but should result in thousands of lives being saved, according to the head.

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