While NOAA’s constellation of weather satellites provides vast amounts of data and imagery to help meteorologists predict the weather and warn people of upcoming storms, satellites save lives with SARSAT technology. According to NOAA, this satellite-based technology has rescued 397 people across the United States.
SARSAT, which stands for “Search and Rescue Satellite Aided Tracking system,” uses a network of U.S. spacecraft to track distress signals transmitted by emergency beacons from aircraft, boats, and handheld personal locator beacons (PLBs). Detect and locate. A similar system, COSPAS, was developed by the USSR. The United States, Canada, France, and the Soviet Union united in 1979 to form COSPAS-SARSAT to help locate people in distress around the world.
The beginning of SARSAT dates back to October 1972. A plane carrying his two U.S. Representatives, Rep. Hale Boggs (D, Louisiana) and House Majority Leader Nick Vezich (D, Alaska), has gone missing in a remote area of Alaska. A massive search and rescue operation was launched, but to this day, no trace of them or their aircraft has been found. Mandated to carry an Information Transmitter (ELT). The device is designed to automatically activate and send a homing signal after a crash. ELT analog technology has been developed and available since the 1950s. The original system was designed to automatically send a homing signal whenever the plane crashed.
As we transitioned from the 1960s to the 1970s, space technology and space-based applications have advanced significantly. Using satellites, space technology applications have opened up for weather communications and navigation. Within NASA, search and rescue was recognized as another advantage of satellite technology. If the aircraft flying over within the limited range of the crashed aircraft could receive the activated beacon signal, it is conceivable that the satellites flying over would be able to receive the beacon’s signal from a much wider area. was
The SARSAT system was developed in a joint effort by three nations looking to space as a solution to improve search and rescue. The United States, Canada, and France worked together to develop the space, ground, and beacon technology needed for the system to work. NASA took the lead in the United States. In the United States, NOAA, NASA, the US Coast Guard, and USAF have partnered to form the US SARSAT program.
Once the system was operational, its operations were taken over by NOAA, which continues to operate today. As the system began to take hold, more and more emergency beacons appeared on the market. The United States Coast Guard, in its role as a maritime search and rescue expert, quickly recognized the benefits of 406 MHz and took aggressive steps in 1990 to make it widely available. As a result, there are now over 723,000 emergency beacons registered in the NOAA 406 MHz registration database.
Of the 397 U.S. rescues last year, 275 were water rescues, 42 were from crashed aircraft, and 80 were land rescues involving PLB. Florida had the highest number of SARSAT rescues with 106, followed by Alaska with 56 and Utah with 20.
“The value of NOAA satellites far exceeds expectations,” said Dr. Steve Volz, NOAA’s Assistant Administrator of Satellite and Information Services. “SARSAT’s life-saving capabilities are a tribute to teamwork with the U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Air Force NASA, and our international partners.”
While the hundreds of rescues were notable, three events in 2022 really demonstrated the benefits of the system.
On June 10, a group of 17 hikers were successfully hauled out after being stranded on a ridge in Sandslacks Canyon, Utah. The Air Force Rescue Coordination Center received an alert from PLB and notified the Garfield County Sheriff’s Office. The Garfield County Sheriff’s Office launched a Utah Department of Public Safety helicopter to the coordinates of the stranded hiker.
On November 20, seven people were rescued from an airliner forced to land on a frozen lake near Bethel, Alaska after an engine failure. Having obtained the coordinates of the crashed plane, the Alaska Rescue Coordination Center alerted another airline company that made the rescue.
On August 5, a US Coast Guard helicopter successfully rescued a sailor from a capsized boat off the coast of New Smyrna Beach, Florida. Sailors grabbed the life raft and activated the beacon before the boat sank.