The capabilities of the GALILEO FOC (full operational capability) satellite constellation to participate in the global SARSAT rescue system were demonstrated in a live test on September 26, 2019. The demonstration was given the name "Operation Shark Bait." An Australian journalist, Tara Foster, was the volunteer person in distress. She was put in a liferaft in the open sea offshore of Ostend, Belgium, with a 406-MHz SARSAT personal locator beacon (PLB) with its own GALILEO global navigation satellite system receiver.
When the PLB beacon was activated, it presumably obtained its position from the GALILEO global satellite navigation system, and transmitted that position on the SARSAT 406-MHz distress signal. The 406-MHz signal was received by a GALILEO satellite equipped with a SARSAT transponder in orbit at 23,222-kilometers above the Earth, which then relayed the distress message and position information to the SARSAT ground station network via an L-band downlink.
In about three and half minutes, the Maritime Rescue and Coordination Center (MRCC) received the distress message and a confirmation of the position report from the GALILEO downlink, and they could then begin to dispatch vessels to the position for rescue.
A recorded-live (and unedited) presentation of the demonstration is available on youTube:
More details can be found at the GSA.EUROPA.EU website:
In keeping with the European-orientation, the PLB that was used in the demonstration test was able to get its position from GALILEO. Although not explicitly identified, there is evidence in the presentation that the device was a McMurdo FIND FAST 220 PLB, which is advertised as "The World's first GALILEO-enabled PLB." (Inasmuch as the device used is said to be the "World's first" GALILEO-enabled PLB," I infer that all the other PLB's in the World use the US Air Force GPS to deduce their position.)
Not demonstrated but in the works for the near future is the Return Link Service (RLS) which will allow a return message to be sent from the GALILEO satellite constellation to a PLB (that has the proper and very new equipment to receive). The RLS message will provide confirmation to the person in distress that their distress beacon transmission was received by the GALILEO satellite and presumably forwarded onward to MRCC, called an ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TYPE 1 and autonomously generated in the satellite. Such PLBs are now in development. A second RLS message, ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TYPE 2, is planned to allow a message created on the ground by the MRCC, then uplinked to the GALILEO constellation, to give the person in distress confirmation that the MRCC has received their distress alert.
The GALILEO FOC GNSS constellation has this 406-MHz relay capability fully deployed--and it is not a trivial add-on to the GNSS gear on the satellite. For more details on the GALILEO 406-MHz systems, see my earlier article at
SARSAT MEO 406-MHz System on GALILEO FOC Satellites
Articles about GPS, GLONASS, GALILEO, WAAS and other satellite navigation systems
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