NOAA Satellites Prove a Lifesaver for Thousands of People

Image: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

New data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration notes that NOAA’s Search and Rescue satellite-aided tracking beacons helped in the rescue of 397 people in the United States in 2022, including 275 individuals rescued in 80 incidents at sea.

And so far in 2023, another 22 lives have been saved, including 21 people involved in eight incidents at sea, the report said.

NOAA operates the Search and Rescue Satellite Aided Tracking (SARSAT) System around the world and around the clock, to detect and locate people in distress. Mariners, aviators and recreational enthusiasts can all access the satellite system in an emergency using a portable radio transmitter called a 406-distress beacon, a device that can send an SOS signal from anywhere on earth, at any time, including under extreme weather conditions.

SARSAT is an integral part and founding member of the international humanitarian search and rescue system called Cospas-Sarsat. Participants now include 45 nations and two independent search and rescue organizations, all with the common goal of saving lives.

Cospas-Sarsat is bringing together a global network of satellites, ground stations mission control centers and rescue coordination centers to meet this goal.

The U.S. SARSAT system uses GPS satellites in medium earth orbit as well as NOAA satellites in low-Earth orbits and GOES (Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellites) orbiters in geostationary locations to detect and locate distress signals for 406 emergency distress beacons.

When an emergency beacon is activated, the signal is received by a satellite and relayed to the nearest available ground station. The ground station forwards the signal to the U.S. Mission Control Center in Suitland, Maryland and appropriate search and rescue authorities are alerted on the details to begin the search and rescue.