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McMurdo Completes Asia Pacific’s First MEOSAR Search and Rescue Satellite Ground Station Installation in New Zealand

McMurdo, has completed the installation of a six-antenna next-generation Medium-Earth Orbit Search and Rescue (MEOSAR) satellite ground station system in New Zealand. The project, which is part of a joint initiative with Maritime New Zealand and the Australian Maritime Safety Authority, is expected to significantly boost search and rescue capability in the New Zealand and Australia search regions and marks the first implementation of MEOSAR in Asia Pacific. MEOSAR is the next-generation version of Cospas-Sarsat, the international search and rescue satellite system that has helped to save 37,000 lives since 1982.

“This key installation firmly establishes McMurdo as the premier MEOSAR infrastructure provider globally,” said Remi Julien, McMurdo President. “We are committed to partnering with both Maritime New Zealand and the Australia Maritime Safety Authority to ensure that they have the technology, training and long-term support in place to significantly reduce search and rescue times and, ultimately, save more lives today and in the future.”

In a typical satellite-based search and rescue scenario, ships, aircraft or individuals transmit distress signals from an emergency location beacon via satellite to a fixed ground receiving station or local user terminal. The ground station receives and calculates the location of the distress signal and creates and sends an alert to the appropriate rescue authorities. Today, the beacon-to-alert process depends on a limited number of Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellites and may take several hours before a position is confirmed. With MEOSAR, beacon signals will be received more quickly and beacon locations identified with greater accuracy thereby reducing this time to minutes.

"Beacons can take the 'search' out of search and rescue, and the MEOSAR system will dramatically increase the global search and rescue capability,” said Maritime New Zealand Director Keith Manch. "Emergency distress beacons are key equipment for anyone operating at sea, on land and in the air – whether commercially or recreationally – but they can't operate without sites like this.”

The New Zealand MEOSAR system, and another being installed in Western Australia, will cover one of the largest search and rescue areas in the world – from north of Australia/New Zealand to the Equator and south to the South Pole, east to half way across the Pacific, and west half way across the Indian Ocean. The systems will undergo rigorous testing before being officially brought online in late 2017 by Cospas-Sarsat.

There are 58,000 emergency distress beacons registered in New Zealand which, without any changes or updates, will be immediately usable by the new systems. It is estimated, however, that an additional 25,000 beacons are unregistered. Due to the high responsiveness of the MEOSAR system, search and rescue authorities strongly recommend beacon registration. This will help the unnecessary deployment of search and rescue resources due to inadvertent beacon activations. The Rescue Co-ordination Centre New Zealand, part of Maritime New Zealand, responds to 550 beacon alerts a year.