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Tech Development

Beacon Development
Search and Rescue Synthetic Aperture Radar

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Tech Development

The NASA Goddard Space Flight Center's Search and Rescue Mission Office is responsible for research and development activities in the areas related to the Distress Alerting Satellite System (DASS), Emergency Beacon Development and "Beaconless" Search or Remote Sensing.

NASA in cooperation with the Department of Defense (DOD) and Sandia National Laboratories (SNL) has undertaken the development of the Distress Alerting Satellite System (DASS) and has selected the GPS constellation as the best mid- earth orbiting (MEO) satellite constellation to host the search and rescue instruments. NASA has committed funds for the development of a proof-of-concept system for DASS and the installation of a proof-of-concept ground station at the Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC) in Greenbelt, Maryland.

NASA's support of the NOAA Search and Rescue Satellite-Aided Tracking (SARSAT) Program Office and other SAR agencies and organizations is in the area of Emergency Beacon Development. Incidents of beacon failure as a result of damage, as well as false alarms present difficult and dangerous visual search challenges to SAR responders in locating persons in distress. The NASA Search and Rescue Mission Office maintains a facility called the System Evaluation and Development Laboratory (SEDL), which assists in this research and development effort. Examples of work which falls under Emergency Beacon Development are:

installation of Search and Rescue 406 MHz repeaters on U.S. Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellites (GOES) weather satellites, and incorporating these repeaters into the Cospas-Sarsat System;

development of a new class of beacons called "self-locating beacons." These beacons contain Global Positioning System (GPS) or other navigation receivers and transmit coded location information in the emergency message. When the geosynchronous satellites receive transmissions from these new beacons in the Cospas-Sarsat System, they can be located within minutes to the accuracy of the navigation receiver (presently 100 meters in the case of GPS); and,

development of a portable, prototype Personal Locator Beacon (PLB) under NASA’s Small Business Innovative Research (SBIR) Program that has been successfully used in numerous exercises.

NASA also performs research and development work in the area of "Beaconless" Search or Remote Sensing. Two examples of the "Beaconless" Search or Remote Sensing development work are:

Search and Rescue Synthetic Aperture Radar or SAR2 Program: This project investigates the use of high-resolution, full-polarization, low frequency Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) to locate crash wreckage, especially in difficult environments such as mountainous and forested regions. SAR2 is capable of penetrating foliage cover at low operating frequencies and quickly imaging large areas in all weather conditions, day and night. Coupled to an advanced computer processing system, which would include Crash Site Detection algorithms, this system has the potential to become a significantly useful search tool;

Laser Search and Rescue (L-SAR) Program: This project investigates the use of a wide-area laser scanner onboard a search aircraft to locate crash wreckage. Special material on the crashed plane reflects the laser light back to the search plane in a unique way that can be detected by another component of the scanning system.

Goddard Space Flight Center