17 October 2008
Four founding countries
In over 20 years of loyal service, the satellites in the Cospas-Sarsat programme have saved no fewer than 24,700 lives around the world (at end 2007). More than one million locator beacons are operating somewhere on the surface of the globe, transmitting distress calls and positions from on land, at sea and in the air.
“The system saved its 1st lives in 1982 after a terrible crash of a Canadian aircraft,” recalls Michel Margery, in charge of Data Collection, Location and Search-and-Rescue programmes at CNES. “The 4 founding countries—France, Canada, the United States and the ex-Soviet Union—decided to officialize their partnership 6 years later.”
Today, the 4 US POES satellites and the European MetOp-A satellite that form the Sarsat system are carrying Canadian repeaters and French processors in low-Earth polar orbit. Russia is scheduled to launch 2 Cospas satellites in 2009.
Beacons revisited 24 times a day
“CNES is helping to develop and fund the processors,” explains Michel Margery. “We have believed in the system’s great potential all along.”
“And Europe has now decided to fly search-and-rescue payloads on the Galileo satellites.”
Since 1996, 5 geostationary satellites relaying signals at 36,000 km have been added to the system: the Indian Space Research Organization’s INSAT-3A satellite covers the Indian Ocean, while 2 US GOES satellites and 2 European MSG satellites watch over the Atlantic and Pacific. These low-Earth and geostationary constellations are what make the Cospas-System so effective, since a satellite passes within range of any distress beacon about 24 times a day.
France chairs the Cospas-Sarsat Council every 4 years and will be hosting delegations from the 40 member countries for the 1st time this year in Biarritz, from 27-30 October. “It’s a great honour for us to be welcoming all the members of Cospas-Sarsat, one of the finest examples of international cooperation in space. This 20th anniversary celebration is set to be a great success,” says Michel Margery.
Par ailleurs une exposition intitulée « L’Espace veille sur la Mer » sera visible au Musée de la Mer à Biarritz, entre le 22 octobre et le 4 janvier 2009.