MEOLUT Next passes COSPAS-SARSAT tests
COSPAS/SARSAT is an intergovernmental organization founded by Canada, the United States, Russia and France. In operation since 1985, it provides a free global Search and Rescue service, using the infrastructures from 43 countries worldwide. French space agency CNES is the official French representative for this organization. Today, some 500,000 ships and 150,000 aircraft are equipped with COSPAS/SARSAT distress beacons, allowing them to use this service. The service has saved more than 37,000 lives since the outset.
How does COSPAS/SARSAT work?
The beacon on a plane or ship is triggered, manually or automatically, and transmits a distress signal at a frequency of 406 MHz. This signal is picked up by surveillance satellites, which retransmit it to a Local User Terminal (LUT) on the ground. This terminal processes the signal, calculates the position of the transmitting beacon, and sends this information to the Mission Control Center (MCC). The MCC is in charge of filtering out false alerts, and then contacting the most appropriate Rescue Coordination Center (RCC), to save the persons in danger.
Until now, this system has called on secondary payloads on observation satellites in both low Earth orbit (LEOSAR) and geostationary Earth orbit (GEOSAR), which will be reaching end-of-life towards 2020. Satellites in medium Earth orbit (MEOSAR), with secondary payloads mounted on GPS, Galileo and Glonass positioning system satellites, will then take over this task, improving performance, precision and responsiveness.
The MEOSAR approach
Thales Alenia Space's MEOLUT NEXT solution
Thales Alenia Space already contributes to the COSPAS/SARSAT system as exclusive supplier of digital signal processors (DSP) on LEOSAR satellites since the 1990s. Today, Thales Alenia Space is offering a brand-new solution concerning the Local User Terminals (LUT). These terminals are in charge of processing the signals received from the satellites and calculating the position of the beacon, then sending it to the Mission Control Center.
The principle of Thales Alenia Space's solution is to use two small active antennas, each comprising 64 patches. These antennas are fitted with a high-performance RF (radio frequency) unit, for upstream digitizing of the signal, followed by a highly innovative algorithmic processing method.
Conventional MEOLUT systems, each fitted with six large parabolic antennas in an area about the size of a football field (or pitch…), are capable of receiving signals from six satellites (1 per antenna). Thales Alenia Space's MEOLUT Next solution, with its two small antennas located in less than 20 square meters, tracks up to 30 satellites, thus significantly enhancing the distress beacon detection rate, while also expanding the coverage zone. Furthermore, since there are no mechanical components in these antennas, maintenance costs are the lowest on the market.
Offering greater accuracy and performance, while also being easier to deploy and maintain, the MEOLUT Next solution from Thales Alenia Space will boost the overall performance of the global COSPAS/SARSAT system.
Major help in locating the downed Egypt Air MS804 plane
During its test phase in May 2016, the MEOLUT Next station in Toulouse detected two distress signals sent by the Egypt Air MS804 airplane before it crashed in the Mediterranean. This information made a strong contribution to calculations used to estimate the location of the aircraft, carried out by French space agency CNES. Subsequently, the aircraft was precisely located off the Greek island of Karpathos, in the southeast part of the Aegean Sea.