Next-generation distress beacon research

Thursday, 15 October, 2020

Next-generation distress beacon research

NASA has partnered with Australia’s SmartSatCRC to advance distress-related communications and navigation technology.

In a boost for developing Australia’s space economy, NASA Goddard Space Flight Centre (GSFC) has announced a collaboration with SmartSatCRC to advance distress-related communications and navigation technology benefiting the US and Australia.

The cooperation with NASA, announced by GSFC Deputy Director for Research and Technology Investments Christyl Johnson, will help to build Australia’s space industry by developing leading-edge technology and expertise with the partners involved in the SmartSat project.

These include University of South Australia, Safety from Space, Myriota, Black Art Technologies, Flinders University and the Australian Maritime Safety Authority.

Emergency beacons

NASA’s Search and Rescue office is led by mission manager Lisa Mazzuca, who attended the Australian Space Forum in Adelaide with Christyl Johnson in February this year, when initial concepts of the projects were discussed.

“This collaboration is part of a more systematic and broader activity between NASA GSFC and SmartSat CRC and opens the door to a lot of possibilities for the Australian space community,” said SmartSat CEO and Managing Director, Professor Andy Koronios.

“We are delighted to be partnering with Goddard’s Search and Rescue office, joining their push towards the Moon and beyond.”

Lisa Mazzuca holding an electronics board

NASA’s Search and Rescue Mission Manager Lisa Mazzuca holds hardware from the beacon development effort. Credit: NASA

Specifically, the SmartSat research team, led by Safety from Space’s Co-Founder Dr Mark Rice, will propose new designs for the waveform of the 406 MHz signal sent by beacons through the Cospas-Sarsat network.

“These new designs will further modernise second-generation beacons, taking advantage of encoding techniques not available when the Cospas-Sarsat network was developed in the 1970s,” Dr Rice said.

“This will enable possibilities for new initiatives for users, emergency management professionals and first responders.”

Greater confidence

“Myriota is excited to be part of the collaboration between South Australia’s SmartSat CRC and NASA’s Search and Rescue office. We anticipate that this research project will have countless benefits for Australia and the growth of our space industry,” said Myriota’s CEO and co-founder, Dr Alex Grant.

“The current technology behind search and rescue distress-related emergency beacons can be unreliable in certain instances due to a lack of messaging integration and a high rate of false alarms,” Dr Grant added.

“We anticipate that the research collaboration between the SmartSat CRC, NASA and Myriota will lead to the development of technology that will provide a much more targeted service than what is currently available and give first responders greater confidence and access to crucial information in emergency situations.”

All the way to the Moon

Future phases of the SmartSat collaboration could support exploration initiatives like the Artemis missions, which will return humans to the Moon for the first time since Apollo. NASA will equip Artemis astronauts with second-generation beacons for use in the event of egress from spacecraft after splashdown or following a launch abort scenario.

The Search and Rescue team is working to extend beacon services to the lunar surface with the LunaNet communications and navigation architecture.

Image credit: ©

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