If you wish to contribute or participate in the discussions about articles you are invited to join Navipedia as a registered user

Galileo Search and Rescue Service

From Navipedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Title Galileo Search and Rescue Service
Edited by GMV
Level Basic
Year of Publication 2011
Logo GMV.png

Galileo Support to Search and Rescue Service (SAR) represents the contribution of Europe to the international COSPAS-SARSAT co-operative effort on humanitarian Search and Rescue activities. Galileo is to play an important part of the Medium Earth Orbit Search and Rescue system (MEOSAR). Galileo satellites will be able to pick up signals from emergency beacons carried on ships, planes or persons and ultimately send these back to national rescue centres. From this, a rescue centre can know the precise location of an accident. At least one Galileo satellite will be in view of any point on Earth so near real-time distress alert is possible. In some cases, feedback could be sent back to a beacon, something which is only made possible by Galileo.[1]


The SAR/Galileo Initial Service is based on the infrastructure provided by the Galileo Programme, which is composed of the following elements[2]:

  • SAR Repeaters onboard the Galileo satellites (20 operational on January 2018);
  • 3 European MEO Local User Terminals (MEOLUTs) deployed in Maspalomas (Spain), Spitsbergen (Norway) and Larnaca (Cyprus);
  • A MEOLUT Tracking Coordination Facility (MTCF) located in the SAR/Galileo Service Centre in Toulouse (France);
  • 5 SAR/Galileo Reference Beacons located in Maspalomas (Spain), Spitsbergen (Norway), Larnaca (Cyprus), Toulouse (France) and Santa Maria (Portugal)
  • The SAR/Galileo Network (SARN)



The International COSPAS-SARSAT Programme provides accurate, timely, and reliable distress alert and location data to help search and rescue authorities assist persons in distress. The objective of the Cospas-Sarsat system is to reduce, as far as possible, delays in the provision of distress alerts to Search and Rescue (SAR) services, and the time required to locate a distress and provide assistance, which have a direct impact on the probability of survival of the person in distress at sea or on land.[3]

To achieve this objective, Cospas-Sarsat Participants implement, maintain, co-ordinate and operate a satellite system capable of detecting distress alert transmissions from radiobeacons that comply with Cospas-Sarsat specifications and performance standards, and of determining their position anywhere on the globe. The distress alert and location data is provided by Cospas-Sarsat Participants to the responsible SAR services.

Cospas-Sarsat co-operates with the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), the International Maritime Organization (IMO), the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and other international organisations to ensure the compatibility of the Cospas-Sarsat distress alerting services with the needs, the standards and the applicable recommendations of the international community.

Galileo contribution (SAR/Galileo)

Galileo Search and Rescue Service

The Galileo support to the Search and Rescue service, herein called SAR/Galileo, represents the contribution of Europe to the international COSPAS-SARSAT cooperative effort on humanitarian Search and Rescue activities. SAR/Galileo shall: [4]

  • Fulfil the requirements and regulations of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) via the detection of Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacons (EPIRBs) of the Global Maritime Distress Security Service and of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) via the detection of Emergency Location Terminals (ELTs).
  • Be backward compatible with the COSPAS-SARSAT system to efficiently contribute to this international Search and Rescue effort.

SAR/Galileo will allow for important improvements of the existing COSPAS-SARSAT system:

  • near real-time reception of distress messages transmitted from anywhere on Earth (the average waiting time is currently one hour);
  • precise location of alerts (a few meters for EPIRBs and ELTs equipped with Galileo receivers, while the current specification for location accuracy is 5 km);
  • multiple satellite detection to avoid terrain blockage in severe conditions;
  • increased availability of the space segment (27 Medium Earth Orbit satellites on top of the four Low Earth Orbit satellites and the three Geostationary satellites in the current system).

In addition, SAR/Galileo will introduce a new SAR function, namely the return link from the SAR operator to the distress emitting beacon, thereby facilitating the rescue operations and helping to identify and reject the false alerts. The service is being defined in cooperation with COSPAS-SARSAT, and its characteristics and operations are regulated under the auspices of IMO and ICAO. [1]

Performance and features

The Search and Rescue Transponder on Galileo satellites detects the distress alert from any COSPAS-SARSAT beacon emitting an alert in the 406 – 406.1 MHz band, and broadcasts this information to dedicated ground stations in the “L6” band. COSPAS-SARSAT Mission Control Centres (MCC) carry out the position determination of the distress alert emitting beacons, once they have been detected by the dedicated ground segment.

The Service performances requirements for the Galileo Search and Rescue Service are described in next table: [4]

Service Performances for SAR/Galileo
Galileo support to Search and Rescue Service (SAR/Galileo)
Capacity Each satellite shall relay signals from up to 150 simultaneous active beacons
Forward System Latency Time The communication from beacons to SAR ground stations shall allow for the detection and location of a distress transmission in less than 10 min. The latency time goes from beacon first activation to distress location determination.
Quality of Service Bit Error Rate < 10e-5 for communication link: beacon to SAR ground station.
Acknowledgment Data Rate 6 messages of 100 bits each, per minute.
Availability > 99.8%

In the scope of the IOV tests campaign 77 percent of simulated distress locations were pinpointed within 2 kilometers, and 95 percent within 5 kilometers. In addition all alerts were detected and forwarded to the Mission Control Centre within a minute and a half, which largely meets the design requirement of 10 minutes[5].


Extending Europe’s search and rescue cover

The Galileo Search and Rescue (SAR) Service begun to be tested after the second pair of the Initial Operation Capability (IOC) satellites were put into orbit, since these are the first satellites equipped with SAR search and rescue repeaters. The first successful test was conducted on 17 January 2013 and basically consisted of sending an UHF signal from ESA’s Redu Centre in Belgium and reception of the reply in the L-Band antenna of the ground segment[6]. After that it was signed two contracts for the deployment of the Galileo SAR Ground Stations: the first one on March 2013 with INTA (Spain) for the deployment of the Maspalomas (Spain) Ground Station in, and the second one with KSAT (Norway) on 17 April 2013 in order to develop the Spitsbergen (Svalbard), Norway station.[7].

As of November 2014, the SAR stations at Spitsbergen in the Norwegian Arctic, Maspalomas on the largest island of Spain’s Canary Islands, and Larnaca on the island nation of Cyprus, were given as ready to pick up distress calls via satellite from all across Europe and its surrounding waters. These three station overseen from a control centre in Toulouse, France, are strategically located at the far corners of our continent forming a triangle enclosing Europe. Each site is equipped with four antennas to detect distress calls relayed via satellites in medium-altitude orbits and the three are interlinked to operate jointly, so that all 12 antennas can track satellites together. The efficiency of this approach has been confirmed and approved via several tests performed during the summer of 2014.[8]

A new generation of beacons is currently being developed (Second Generation range of Beacons, SGB) to operate with the full capability of the new Meosar Cospas/Sarsat (C/S) International Programme. This system improves significantly the performance of localization introducing new capabilities and new operations impossible before, which will contribute to save more lives at sea and on land. [9]

In the following referenced document could be consulted a research done by mid 2017, where it is simulated the expected SAR/Galileo coverage area, taking into account a different number of satellites:

  • 16 satellites, which were available in mid 2017
  • 20 satellites, including another four which were launched by the end of 2017
  • 26 satellites (Complete Galileo Constellation)[10]



  1. ^ a b ESA Galileo web page
  2. ^ [1], EC
  3. ^ COSPAS-SARSAT web page
  4. ^ a b Galileo Mission High Level Definition, v3, September 2002. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "GALHLD" defined multiple times with different content
  5. ^ Galileo Works, And Works Well, ESA, February 2014
  6. ^ ESA, 23 January 2013
  7. ^ European Comission, 19 April 2013
  8. ^ New sites will boost European search and rescue, ESA, 17 November, 2014
  9. ^ [2], Inside GNSS
  10. ^ [3], GSC-EUROPA