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Galileo to spearhead global search and rescue service

Paris, France: With an aim to pinpoint distress calls for rapid search and rescue, Galileo navigation system will be harnessed, announced European Space Agency (ESA). It will test expansion of the humanitarian system over the next two years to make it more effective.
In addition to conveying distress signals to search and rescue organisations, Galileo will also provide a novel service known as Return Link Service. Under this innovative service, the satellite will send a reply to those in distress, letting them know that their signal was picked up and help is on the way.
Igor Stojkovic, engineer at European Space Agency (ESA) said, “Search and rescue packages are also being carried by US GPS and Russian Glonass satellites, though with most of Europe’s Galileo constellation being deployed within the next few years, Galileo is leading the way.”
For over 30 years, the international Cospas–Sarsat satellite relay system has been making air and sea travel safer, saving 24 000 lives along the way. Founded by Canada, France, Russia and the US, Cospas–Sarsat began with ‘transponders’ on low-orbit satellites. The low-Earth orbit satellites determined the location of emergency beacons using the Doppler effect as they pass overhead. 
“However, only a small area of Earth is covered at a time, and it may take valuable time to line up with a ground station to relay a message – and it takes two satellite passes to pinpoint the distress call,” explained Igor. 
With these satellites remaining in a fixed point in the sky, distress calls are detected and relayed immediately, although their relative lack of motion means Doppler-based ranging is not possible.
“Now Cospas–Sarsat is moving to using navigation satellites in medium orbits,” Igor stated.
“Navigation satellite constellations have been carefully designed for worldwide coverage, and can perform a combination of time- and frequency-based ranging for single-burst distress call positioning,” Igor added.  
The first medium-orbit transponder was launched on a Glonass satellite last year, with two more flying aboard Galileo satellites due for launch at the end of summer.
“These satellites will be the focus of our demonstration and evaluation phase, the results of which will set working standards for the operational system to follow from 2015,” stated Igor.
Source: ESA