Space

ESA's Galileo satnav system can now reply to SOS signals

ESA's Galileo satnav system ca...
Model Galileo satellte at the system's Control Centre at Oberpfaffenhofen
Model Galileo satellte at the system's Control Centre at Oberpfaffenhofen
View 6 Images
Cospas-Sarsat infographic
1/6
Cospas-Sarsat infographic
Model Galileo satellte at the system's Control Centre at Oberpfaffenhofen
2/6
Model Galileo satellte at the system's Control Centre at Oberpfaffenhofen
Cospas-Sarsat rescue beacon activated
3/6
Cospas-Sarsat rescue beacon activated
A public demonstration of Galileo's return link service was performed at the Cospas-Sarsat Joint Committee Meeting in Doha in Qatar in summer 2019
4/6
A public demonstration of Galileo's return link service was performed at the Cospas-Sarsat Joint Committee Meeting in Doha in Qatar in summer 2019
The ESA-built Svalbard Medium-Earth Orbit Local User Terminal (MEOLUT) on Spitsbergen Island, part of an extension of the international Cospas–Sarsat search and rescue program into medium-altitude orbits, spearheaded by Galileo
5/6
The ESA-built Svalbard Medium-Earth Orbit Local User Terminal (MEOLUT) on Spitsbergen Island, part of an extension of the international Cospas–Sarsat search and rescue program into medium-altitude orbits, spearheaded by Galileo
As part of the Operation Shark Bait test of Galileo Search and Rescue, Belgian Coast Guard boat Orka R6 dashed out to sea, guided by a positioning precision of less than 2 km (1.2 mi), joined by an NH90 Caiman helicopter
6/6
As part of the Operation Shark Bait test of Galileo Search and Rescue, Belgian Coast Guard boat Orka R6 dashed out to sea, guided by a positioning precision of less than 2 km (1.2 mi), joined by an NH90 Caiman helicopter
View gallery - 6 images

Europe's Galileo satellite navigation system can now not only receive, relay, and locate distress beacon signals, it can also respond to the SOS, sending back an acknowledgement to those awaiting rescue that their location and call for help has been received and search and rescue services are responding. The new function became operational during the 12th European Space Conference in Brussels, which ran from January 21 to 22, 2020.

Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS) have come a long way since the US Military introduced the first, Transit, in the 1960s. The technology not only revolutionized navigation to the point where anyone with a smartphone can pinpoint their location with the touch of an icon, but it's also having an increasing impact as more functions are added to that of basic navigation.

Today, there are four global satellite navigation systems and Galileo is a key part of the Cospas-Sarsat system founded in 1979 by Canada, France, Russia, and the US, with 24 out of the 26 Galileo satellites carrying an 8-kg (18-lb) search and rescue package next to the main antenna. According to ESA, the ability of the Galileo satellite constellation to receive and relay SOS signals saves up to 2,000 lives per year.

Cospas-Sarsat rescue beacon activated
Cospas-Sarsat rescue beacon activated

The Cospas-Sarsat, as it is currently configured, is a compromise between the original deployment of low-Earth-orbit satellites, which accurately pinpointed distress signals by measuring their Doppler shift but could only see small areas, and later payloads in geosynchronous orbit, where the system could see larger areas but couldn't measure Doppler shifts.

However, the Galileo constellation is composed of medium-orbiting satellites at an altitude of 23,222 km (14,429 mi) – high enough to see large areas of the Earth's surface, but low enough to locate an object within five minutes to within as little as a kilometer (0.6 mi). Distress signals are relayed to Medium-Earth Orbit Local User Terminals (MEOLUT) in the Spitsbergen Islands, Cyprus, and the Canary Islands under the coordination of a control center in Toulouse. The signals are then relayed to local search and rescue authorities.

As part of the Operation Shark Bait test of Galileo Search and Rescue, Belgian Coast Guard boat Orka R6 dashed out to sea, guided by a positioning precision of less than 2 km (1.2 mi), joined by an NH90 Caiman helicopter
As part of the Operation Shark Bait test of Galileo Search and Rescue, Belgian Coast Guard boat Orka R6 dashed out to sea, guided by a positioning precision of less than 2 km (1.2 mi), joined by an NH90 Caiman helicopter

Now, the system has a "return link" function that can send an acknowledgment back to the beacon transmitting the SOS in under a maximum of 30 minutes and in as little as one or two minutes.

"Anyone in trouble will now receive solid confirmation, through an indication on their activated beacon, informing them that search and rescue services have been informed of their alert and location," says ESA’s Galileo principal search and rescue engineer Igor Stojkovic. "For anyone in a tough situation, such knowledge could make a big difference."

The video below shows Cospas-Sarsat in action.

Galileo distress beacon

Source: ESA

View gallery - 6 images
2 comments
ljaques
I like the part in the video where the smiling guy runs smack over a 9x20' metal box HE SAW in the ocean in front of him, then is surprised when he's tossed onto his arse by it. Brilliant! (not) Bravo to Galileo for providing a needed service.
Albert L
I guess this new system will work on only certain devices as older sos devices may not be able to receive? I wonder if the new satellites increase coverage or are there still uncovered areas out in the ocean. Does this work for land sos also? Seems a complete article would cover these basic concerns.