The recent successful activation of the Galileo Search and Rescue (SAR) Return Link Service was very much in the spotlight at a press event held at the European GNSS Agency’s (GSA) Prague headquarters on February 3. At the ‘GNSS for #EUProtect’ event, which focused on the contribution of European GNSS to emergency response and civil protection in Europe, the SAR Return Link was successfully tested, demonstrating an impressive response time.
The Galileo Return Link Service (RLS), which allows people in distress to receive automatic acknowledgement that their distress signal has been received, was officially declared operational on January 21. The new functionality, currently offered uniquely by Galileo, enables a communication link that relays Return Link Messages (RLM) back to the originating beacon through the Galileo Navigation Signal in Space (I/NAV E1B).
The RLS was successfully demonstrated during the Prague event, at which an end-to-end test of the forward and the return link was carried out with a ready-to-market beacon. With only 4.5 minutes between the activation of the beacon and the reception of the return link, the demonstration clearly showed the advantages of this service in a real life emergency situation.
For someone in distress, receiving such acknowledgment in just over four minutes will provide a significant psychological boost and reduce panic, while allowing the rescue crew to improve the on-board logistics and planning of the rescue mission, thereby helping to save more lives. As such, the RLS is a real game changer for search and rescue services.
Speaking at the event, Rodrigo da Costa, Galileo Services Programme Manager at the GSA, said that a new Galileo facility – the Return Link Service Provider – had just been deployed in Toulouse, France to act as an interface between Galileo and Cospas-Sarsat, the international satellite-based search and rescue system.
Da Costa summarised some of the RLS performance indicators: “The Galileo system loop latency is less than 15 minutes 99% of the time, with an end-to-end loop latency of less than 30 minutes,” he said, adding that this is typically less than 10 minutes as demonstrated during the Prague event, depending largely on the time it takes for Cospas-Sarsat to detect and locate the alert.
GSA Head of Market Development Fiammetta Diani spoke more generally about the contribution of EGNSS to the European economy and to emergency response, highlighting Galileo’s contribution to the eCall and E112 emergency response systems and the benefits of EGNOS for helicopter emergency medical services (HEMS).
“Galileo and EGNOS will contribute to saving at least 10,000 lives in the 2020-2025 timeframe. For example, with the Galileo-compatible eCall, by speeding up emergency response times by up to 50%, we can reduce the number of fatalities by 4% and the number of severe injuries by 6%-10%,” Diani said.
“In the case of the Search and Rescue service we are demonstrating today, it is required to have a specialised beacon, as the users are normally outside the cellular network coverage, for example in the middle of the sea, while eCall and E112 are designed for our daily lives and can work directly from our cars and smartphones. They permit the emergency services to locate us quickly in case of accident or when we call the emergency number, without the need to explain where we are, which is often difficult or impossible when we are in distressful situations,” she said.
Following the launch of the RLS, the SAR/Galileo Service Definition Document (SDD) was updated to include information about new service, including details on the characteristics of the service and the infrastructure underpinning it, and also the Minimum Performance Levels (MPLs) that the SAR/Galileo Services users shall experience, as well as the main limitations and conditions of use. The latest version can be found here.
Galileo SAR RLS users that would like to receive more information can send their inquiries to the European GNSS Service Centre Help Desk at: www.gsc-europa.eu/helpdesk.
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