NASA’s Revolutionary Search and Rescue Technology

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The international satellite-aided search and rescue initiative Cospas-Sarsat has been aided by NASA and enabled the development of multiple emergency location beacon types that explorers can use when in need.

According to Interesting Engineering, if an explorer is distressed or lost they can activate the 406 MHz frequency beacon that sends a distress signal to a GPS satellite in space, which then relays the signal location to the Cospas-Sarsat network. With the precise position of the beacon, the network can alert first responders anywhere in the world and initiate a rescue.

The three types of beacons are personal locator beacons (used by hikers and other land explorers), emergency position-indicating radio beacons (for boaters and sailors), and emergency locator transmitters (for aircraft pilots). In 2023 alone 51 rescues were made for activated personal locator beacons, 255 for emergency position-indicating radio beacons, and 44 for emergency locator transmitters, as reported by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

NASA’s Search and Rescue office now turns its long legacy of Earth-based beacon development to support NASA’s Artemis II campaign –NASA’s first crewed mission under Artemis. The agency is including second-generation beacons called ANGEL (Advanced Next-Generation Emergency Locators) on the astronauts’ life preservers and installing another location beacon onto the Orion spacecraft capsule. If the astronauts need to exit Orion without the assistance of recovery personnel, NASA will be able to locate them immediately using the ANGEL beacon locations.

NASA performed an at-sea recovery test for the Artemis mission in July 2023, in which search and rescue team members were aboard the USS John P. Murtha to validate ANGEL and the newly developed SAINT (SAR Intelligent Terminal) application, which tracks the beacons’ locations in real-time.

The Search and Rescue office is a part of the SCaN (Space Communications and Navigation) program office and is essential for NASA’s missions to the moon and Mars. The office uniquely advances NASA’s exploration capabilities while enabling the life-saving technology used by Earth-based adventurers.