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European Commission to acquire Thales Alenia Space’s advanced technology to respond to distress signals

October 8, 2018

Thales Alenia Space has won a contract from the European Commission to develop and build an operational ground station on La Reunion Island to track Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) satellites* in medium Earth orbit (MEO). The ground station will receive and process 406 MHz distress beacon signals from the MEO satellites being tracked, and relay them to the SAR/Galileo network via the French Mission Control Center (FMCC) at the CNES facility in Toulouse. The contract also included the procurement of the best possible hosting site for this ground station.   

This MEOLUT Next will enhance the Commission’s contribution to the Cospas/Sarsat Search And Rescue system by extending its coverage in the South Indian ocean, contributing to worldwide coverage. It complements the three MEOLUTs that are already deployed around Europe, in Larnaca (Cyprus), Maspalomas (Grand Canaria) and Spitzbergen (Norway) and are under responsibility of the GSA.

The MEO system, which replaces the legacy LEO (low Earth orbit) system, is designed to offer a faster response and better location data in near real time for search & rescue (SAR) authorities, using spacecraft and ground facilities to detect and locate signals from the 406 MHz distress beacons. 

The MEOLUT Next will also support the second generation of Cospas-Sarsat beacons. The SAR/Galileo site on La Reunion will be fitted with reference and calibration beacons to monitor the performance of the extended SAR ground segment and precisely calibrate MEOLUT measurements.

“Using Thales Alenia Space’s powerful and compact MEOLUT Next phased array solution, the European Commission will benefit from the world’s first spaceborne search & rescue system of this type,” said Philippe Blatt, Vice President, Navigation France at Thales Alenia Space. “We are very proud that our advanced technology is now recognized by many customers worldwide. The performance logged by our MEOLUT Next units in service far exceeds requirements, which not only benefits our customer countries, but also makes travel even safer. It’s worth remembering that the Cospas-Sarsat system, operational since 1988, saves some 1,500 lives a year.”   

Thales Alenia Space designs, operates and delivers satellite-based systems for governments and institutions, helping them position and connect anyone or anything, everywhere. Since being commissioned in 2016, MEOLUT Next has delivered unrivaled performance, detecting distress signals from more than 5,000 km away. Several countries have already chosen or are interested by this breakthrough technology, including Canada and Togo.