Thales Alenia Space’s advanced technology to respond to distress signals

October 8, 2018  - By

The European Commission (EC) has awarded Thales Alenia Space a contract to develop and build an operational ground station on La Reunion Island to track GNSS satellites in medium Earth orbit. The ground station will be an operational part of the Galileo search-and-rescue (SAR) system.

The contract includes one Medium Orbit Local User Terminal (MEOLUT), engineering support and maintenance services for one year, and the hosting site on La Reunion Island.

Using Thales Alenia Space’s powerful and compact MEOLUT Next phased-array solution, the EC and European GNSS Agency (GSA) will improve their contribution to the Cospas-Sarsat system.

Thales Alenia Space is a joint venture between Thales (67 percent) and Leonardo (33 percent).

The ground station will receive and process 406-MHz distress beacon signals from the MEO satellites being tracked, and relay them to the SAR/Galileo network via the French Mission Control Center (FMCC) at the CNES facility in Toulouse. The contract also included the procurement of the best possible hosting site for this ground station.

Image: International Cospas-Sarsat Programme

Image: International Cospas-Sarsat Programme

This MEOLUT Next will enhance the EC’s contribution to the Cospas-Sarsat SAR system by extending its coverage in the South Indian ocean, contributing to worldwide coverage. It complements the three MEOLUTs that are already deployed around Europe —  in Larnaca (Cyprus), Maspalomas (Grand Canaria) and Spitzbergen (Norway) — and under responsibility of the GSA.

The MEO system, which replaces the legacy LEO (low Earth orbit) system, is designed to offer a faster response and better location data in near real time for search-and-rescue authorities, using spacecraft and ground facilities to detect and locate signals from the 406-MHz distress beacons.

The MEOLUT Next will also support the second generation of Cospas-Sarsat beacons. The SAR/Galileo site on La Reunion will be fitted with reference and calibration beacons to monitor the performance of the extended SAR ground segment and precisely calibrate MEOLUT measurements.

“Using Thales Alenia Space’s powerful and compact MEOLUT Next phased array solution, the European Commission will benefit from the world’s first spaceborne search & rescue system of this type,” said Philippe Blatt, vice president, Navigation France at Thales Alenia Space. “We are very proud that our advanced technology is now recognized by many customers worldwide. The performance logged by our MEOLUT Next units in service far exceeds requirements, which not only benefits our customer countries, but also makes travel even safer. It’s worth remembering that the Cospas-Sarsat system, operational since 1988, saves some 1,500 lives a year.”

Thales Alenia Space designs, operates and delivers satellite-based systems for governments and institutions, helping them position and connect anyone or anything, everywhere. Since commissioning in 2016, MEOLUT Next has delivered unrivaled performance, detecting distress signals from more than 5,000 kilometers away. Several countries have already chosen or are interested in the technology, including Canada and Togo.

About the Author: Tracy Cozzens

Senior Editor Tracy Cozzens joined GPS World magazine in 2006. She also is editor of GPS World’s newsletters and the sister website Geospatial Solutions. She has worked in government, for non-profits, and in corporate communications, editing a variety of publications for audiences ranging from federal government contractors to teachers.