In addition to their vital role in weather forecasting,
NOAA’s polar-orbiting and geostationary satellites can detect distress signals
from emergency beacons carried by shipwrecked boaters, downed pilots, and
stranded hikers. Information captured from these satellites, including
location, are then relayed to first responders on the ground who assist with
search and rescue efforts.
Of the 240 rescues in 2014, 112 were waterborne rescues and 113 were
from events where Personal Locator Beacons were used. A notable
incident was where signals received by the NOAA satellites helped the US Coast
Guard to rescue five people from a capsised fishing vessel 20 miles off the
NOAA satellites are part of the international Search and
Rescue Satellite Aided Tracking System, known as COSPAS-SARSAT. This system
uses a network of spacecraft to detect and locate distress signals quickly from
emergency beacons onboard aircraft and boats, and from PLBs.
When a NOAA satellite finds the location of a distress
signal, the information is relayed to the SARSAT Mission Control Center based
at NOAA’s Satellite Operations Facility in Suitland, Maryland. From there, the
information is quickly sent to a Rescue Coordination Center, operated by either
the US Coast Guard for water rescues, or the US Air Force for land rescues.
“From helping rescue a lost hiker to finding a capsized
fishing vessel to providing the data and information that underpins our daily
weather forecasts, NOAA satellites help protect lives and property every day,”
said Chris O’Connors, NOAA SARSAT program manager.
1982, COSPAS-SARSAT has been credited with supporting more than 37,000 rescues
worldwide, including more than 7,492 in the United States and its surrounding