NASA develops new technology to enhance search and rescue operations

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Washington, May 25 (ANI): NASA has developed new technology that will more quickly identify the locations of people in distress and reduce the risk of rescuers.

The Search and Rescue Mission Office at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., in collaboration with several government agencies, has developed a next-generation search and rescue system, called the Distress Alerting Satellite System (DASS).

NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the U.S. Air Force, the U.S. Coast Guard and other 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 DASS-equipped satellites is launched.

When it goes online, DASS will be able to almost instantaneously detect and locate distress signals generated by 406 MHz beacons installed on aircraft and vessels or carried by individuals, greatly enhancing the international community's ability to rescue people in distress, said NASA Search and Rescue Mission Manager David Affens.

This improved capability is made possible because the satellite-based instruments used to relay the emergency signals will be installed on the U.S. military's Global Position System (GPS), a constellation of 24 spacecraft operating in mid-Earth orbit (MEO).

DASS overcomes all the limitations in the current systems, said Mickey Fitzmaurice, space systems engineer for the NOAA Search and Rescue Satellite-Aided Tracking (SARSAT) program.

"With a mid-Earth orbit search and rescue capability provided by GPS, one emergency signal goes off, and six satellites will be in view. Almost instantly, I can begin processing the signal to determine its precise location. Right now, it can take an hour or more before we can even act on a signal," he said.

Goddard began work on the new system in 2002, a few years after studies revealed that repeaters placed on a constellation of satellites operating in mid-Earth orbit would significantly enhance search and rescue efforts.

With NASA funding, Goddard engineers developed a proof-of-concept instrument and worked with the Air Force to fly it on GPS satellites to demonstrate and evaluate its effectiveness.

Currently, nine GPS satellites are flying the proof-of-concept technology and an additional 12 are planned.

Goddard is using the testing to fine tune the technology before transitioning to a final system after 2015, which will be deployed on the Air Force's Block III GPS satellites.

As part of their research and development effort, Goddard engineers also designed and built a new ground-tracking station on the Goddard campus to receive, decode, and locate the 406 MHz distress beacons worldwide.

NOAA plans to use the design when it begins constructing a DASS ground station in Hawaii next year and perhaps another in Florida in the future, said Fitzmaurice. (ANI)

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