Affiliations: Communications Research Centre Canada, 3701 Carling Avenue, Ottawa, ON K2H 8S2, Canada E‐mail: [email protected]
Abstract: This paper describes an existing worldwide satellite system – Cospas‐Sarsat – that provides the valuable, humanitarian service of pinpointing the locations of disaster survivors. The system demonstrates international cooperation in space and is used in many applications. This system is unique in the way that it is funded and operated, while its use remains free of charge to the end‐user in distress. Cospas‐Sarsat, an international satellite system for search and rescue, began operations in 1982, and has been credited with saving thousands of lives since then. Hundreds of thousands of aviators, mariners and land users worldwide are equipped with Cospas‐Sarsat distress beacons, which could help save their lives in emergency situations anywhere in the world. This paper outlines system design and operation. Cospas‐Sarsat satellites provide global coverage searching for user distress signals. Tracking stations on six continents receive the satellite‐relayed distress signals, compute the locations of the distress events and initiate calls for help to the appropriate rescue authorities. The paper presents the evolution, current status and future plans of the system and describes some real distress cases where it helped save lives.