Search and Rescue (SAR)

Search and Rescue (SAR)

OVERVIEW

For over 40 years, NASA’s Search and Rescue office has aided the international Cospas-Sarsat Program in the development of search and rescue technologies. Cospas-Sarsat is a cooperative effort of 44 member countries and organizations dedicated to providing robust and reliable satellite-aided distress location services worldwide. The Search and Rescue office has been integral to designing and testing Cospas-Sarsat’s 406 MHz distress beacons, as well as the flight and ground systems that support them.

When beacon users find themselves in distress, they can activate their beacons that will begin the search and rescue process. Global Navigation Satellite System constellations like GPS and Galileo host Cospas-Sarsat’s primary flight segment, which listens for beacon signals. Those signals are relayed to ground stations — known as local user terminals — which use the data to calculate the beacons’ locations. The system supplies that data and the computed location to relevant organizations and first responders across the globe.

In the United States, search and rescue efforts are coordinated through the national search and rescue program called SARSAT. This is a combined effort between NASA and three other U.S. agencies. The Air Force coordinates inland search and rescue, the Coast Guard coordinates maritime search and rescue, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration operates the system. NASA infuses technology into the overall program to minimize the search time and maximize the rescues.

Quick Facts

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Since 1982, when the first official rescue associated with the international program occurred, the Cospas-Sarsat system has provided information assisting in the rescue of more than 48,000 people in more than 13,000 distress situations.
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Cospas-Sarsat uses three types of emergency beacons depending on whether they are carried by individuals, on board aircraft, or onboard maritime vessels.
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There are over 1 million emergency beacons in use worldwide.
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Cospas-Sarsat works through three types of satellites: low-Earth orbit (LEOSAR), medium-Earth orbit (MEOSAR), and high-altitude geosynchronous orbit (GEOSAR).
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There are five low-Earth orbit search and rescues satellites (LEOSARs), seven geosynchronous orbit satellites (GEOSARs) and more than 35 medium-Earth orbit satellites (MEOSARs) in operation.   Credit: Lockheed Martin
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There are 65 ground stations called local user terminals (LUT’s) tracking LEOSARs, 31 tracking GEOSARs, and 17 tracking MEOSARs.