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Investment in new satellite technology to enhance Singapore’s aeronautical and maritime search and rescue capabilities

A typical overview of the Cospas-Sarsat system/ Source: Media release from CAAS and MPA

The Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS) and Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) announced an investment of SG$8.4 million in a new Medium-altitude Earth Orbit Search and Rescue (MEOSAR) ground system to enhance Search and rescue capabilities in Singapore’s maritime and aeronautical Search and Rescue Regions (SRRs[1]). The MEOSAR ground system will be fully operational in 2018.

The system consists of a ground segment and a space segment which deploys Medium-altitude Earth Orbit (MEO) satellites. Distress signals, emitted from the emergency beacons activated by aircraft, ships or persons in distress, will be received simultaneously by the MEO satellites and relayed back to the ground segment.

The new MEOSAR ground system is an improvement over the current Low-altitude Earth Orbit Search and Rescue (LEOSAR) ground system. It provides access to more satellites and employment of more advanced technologies resulting in enhanced position accuracy for faster detection and location of distress parties.

The solution will be delivered by Orolia, through its McMurdo brand and consist of a six-channel Medium-altitude Earth Orbit Local User Terminal (MEOLUT) system, including hardware, installation, systems integration, testing, commissioning, training and program management services. The contract also includes delivery of a complete Cospas-Sarsat commissionable Mission Control Center; and a command and control platform for SAR incidents.

Mr Kevin Shum, Director-General of CAAS, said, “We are committed to ensuring that prompt assistance is available to persons in distress within the Singapore Search and Rescue Region. The acquisition of the improved space-based system will enhance our search and rescue capabilities. It will complement our equipment and resources to provide faster, more accurate and reliable data to locate persons in distress.”

“In any search and rescue mission, time is of the essence. The new MEOSAR system will allow us to detect and locate the distress party more accurately for the expeditious deployment of assets to save lives. This is in line with the MPA’s continuous efforts to adopt new technologies to enhance our search and rescue capabilities,” added Mr. Andrew Tan, Chief Executive of MPA.

A part of Cospas-Sarsat programme

The adoption of the MEOSAR ground system is an initiative under the Cospas-Sarsat programme, of which Singapore has been an active participant since 1991. Including the four Parties (Canada, France, USA, Russia) to the International Cospas-Sarsat Programme Agreement in 1988, 40 States and 2 organisations are currently formally associated with the Programme.

The programme is an international, humanitarian, cooperative worldwide satellite-based Search and Rescue (SAR) alert programme for aviation, maritime as well as land users in distress. The Cospas-Sarsat system allows users in distress to use a battery powered electronic emergency beacon to alert SAR agencies of their situation. The beacon transmits emergency signals to the satellites, called the space segment, that detect and relay the beacon’s signals to the ground segment or the ground system.

The ground segment consists of the Local User Terminal (LUT) and Mission Control Centre (MCC). The LUT is a ground receiving station that processes the satellite signals and sends the processed location of the distress signal and signal information to the MCCs.

The MCC collects LUT data, sorts the information, and distributes the alert data to the appropriate land or sea Rescue Coordination Centres (RCCs), SAR Point-of-Contacts (SPOCs), or other MCCs. The RCC or SPOC dispatches SAR assets to the beacon location for SAR operation.

All MCCs are connected globally via communication networks for the sharing of information to facilitate responses to the distress signals. Singapore is responsible for the sending of emergency messages to SPOCs such as Brunei, Malaysia and Myanmar.

LEOSAR, GEOSAR and MEOSAR

Those satellites orbit the Earth at an altitude between 19,000 and 24,000 km, a range considered as medium-altitude Earth orbit.  Hence this component of Cospas-Sarsat is known as the Medium-altitude Earth Orbit Search and Rescue system, or MEOSAR. 

LEOSAR and GEOSAR systems have their own advantages in the detection and location of activated distress beacons. The GEOSAR system constantly covers the entire Earth except the high-latitude (e.g. polar) regions and it can receive beacons distress messages across most of the globe. But it cannot locate the beacon unless the location is encoded in the beacon’s message from a local navigation receiver.  On the other hand, the LEOSAR system can locate a beacon without the aid of a GPS or other navigation signal to the beacon, but these satellites have a view of only a small part of the Earth at any given time. So, there might be a delay in receiving the distress signal over LEOSAR.                    The MEOSAR system offers the advantages of both LEOSAR and GEOSAR systems without their current limitations by providing transmission of the distress message, and independent location of the beacon, with a near real time worldwide coverage.

Cospas-Sarsat is in the process of upgrading its satellite system to MEOSAR.

[1] The Maritime Search and Rescue Region (MSRR) tasked to MPA is as shown below.

The Aeronautical Search and Rescue Region (ASRR) tasked to CAAS coincides with the Singapore Flight Information Region (FIR), as shown below:

Source: Media release from CAAS and MPA

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