United Nations – India Workshop on Satellite Aided Search and Rescue, which is hosted by ISRO, was inaugurated today (March 18, 2002) by Dr V K Aatre, Scientific Advisor to Raksha Mantri at Bangalore. Vice Admiral O P Bansal, Director General Coast Guard and Chairman, National Search and Rescue Board gave the keynote address. The inaugural function was presided by Dr P S Goel, Director, ISRO Satellite Centre. Mr Victor Kotelnikov, representative of the United Nation and Mr Daniel Levesque, Head COSPAS-SARSAT also addressed the gathering.

The prime objective of the workshop is to promote awareness of International COSPAS-SARSAT Search and Rescue system and to establish formal interface with user countries under Indian Mission Control Centre of COSPAS-SARSAT for better understanding and co-ordination of the programme. The workshop will also benefit COSPAS-SARSAT users in neighbouring countries of Asia and the Pacific region.

The COSPAS-SARSAT is an international satellite system for search and rescue. It comprises of a constellation of satellites both in polar and geo-stationary orbits. This system provides distress alert and location information to search and rescue authorities for maritime, aviation and land users in distress.

The SARSAT programme was initiated by the USA, Canada and France in the seventies, using US NOAA satellites. The Russians had also developed a similar system known as COSPAS. In 1979, COSPAS-SARSAT system was formalised with the inter-operability between the two satellite systems being established. Any aircraft or ship or personnel carrying an emergency transmitter (beacon) could activate the beacon manually or automatically in case of a distress situation such as an aircraft crash or a ship sinking. The location of the beacon transmitting the distress signal is determined by Doppler principle using the relative motion between the satellite and the beacon. The Mission Control Centre (MCC) of COSPAS-SARSAT collects, sorts and stores the data from the Local User Terminals and other Mission Control Centres. Information on distress alerts is passed on to the Rescue Coordination Centres which, based on this information, carry out rescue operations.

ISRO has also established two Local User Terminals (LUT), one at Bangalore and another at Lucknow along with a Mission Control Centre at Bangalore. An inter Agency Steering Committee (IASC) represented by Coast Guard, Directorate General of Shipping, Civil Aviation, Defence Services, Department of Telecommunication and Ministry of Information and Technology has been set up with Department of Space as the nodal agency for co-ordinating Indian COSPAS-SARSAT efforts. The Indian Mission Control Centre is linked to four national rescue co-ordination centres which are located at Mumbai, Chennai, Delhi and Kolkata operated by Airports Authority of India (AAI). The Indian LUTs provide a substantial coverage for the Indian Ocean region and covers 7 countries – Bangladesh, Bhutan, Maldivis, Nepal, Srilanka, Seychelles and Tanzania. The Indian MCC/LUTs have helped in rescuing about 1300 persons since its operations started in 1986.

India has also incorporated search and rescue transponders on its INSAT system to provide distress alerts even when any satellite in the COSPAS-SARSAT constellation is not within the visibility of the beacon carried by distressed aircraft or ship.

There are 35 countries and organisations who are now formally associated with COSPAS-SARSAT programme, including the four parties to the international COSPAS-SARSAT agreement namely USA, Canada, France and Russia, which provide and operate the space segment. There are 39 low earth orbit Local User Terminals and 7 Geostationary Earth Orbiting Local User Terminals and 22 Mission Control Centres around the globe. About 9,10,000 emergency beacons are currently in use. Since its inception, the COSPAS-SARSAT system has helped to rescue about 12,700 persons till the end of the year 2000.

The Workshop on Satellite Aided Search and Rescue hosted by ISRO is expected to discuss the various system concepts, the regulations, beacon specifications and coding, ground system operations, data distribution procedures, COSPAS-SARSAT distress alert formats, guidelines for national regulatory policies and future system development.