The completion of a pair of dedicated ground stations (Medium-Earth Orbit Local User Terminal, Meolut) at opposite ends of Europe has enabled Galileo satellites in orbit to participate in global testing of the Cospas–Sarsat search and rescue system.
The Maspalomas station, at the southern end of the largest island of the Canary Islands, was activated in June and this last month has seen the Svalbard site on Spitsbergen in the Norwegian Arctic come on line.
The latest two Galileo satellites have taken part in an international demonstration and evaluation programme, a worldwide test campaign for a new expansion of the world’s oldest and largest satellite-based rescue system, Cospas–Sarsat.
Supporting search and rescue is a separate function to Galileo’s main task of providing global navigation and timing services, but no less important.
The second pair of Europe’s Galileo satellites (launched together on 12 October 2012) are the first of the constellation to host SAR payloads. These can pick up UHF signals from emergency beacons aboard ships, aircraft or carried by individuals, which are then relayed to ground stations. There, the source is pinpointed and automatically passed on to a control centre, which then routes it to local authorities for rescue.
Each site is equipped with four antennas to track four satellites. There are three sites in all: Maspalomas and Spitsbergen will combine with a third station at Larnaca in Cyprus, currently approaching completion. These three sites are monitored and controlled from the SAR Ground Segment Data Service Provider site, based at Toulouse in France. The stations are networked to share raw data, effectively acting as a single huge 12-antenna station, achieving unprecedented detection time and localisation accuracy in relaying search and rescue signals to local authorities.