Resilient & extreme reliability connectivity for safety of life


The Cospas-Sarsat system has been operational for almost 40 years providing a global distress system to support and enhance search and rescue operations. The service is provided through a treaty-based, intergovernmental organisation with 45 signatories. Australian representation is through the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) within the Department for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications. AMSA manages ground stations for the system in QLD and WA with a Mission Control Centre in the ACT.

The first-generation service was supported by a number of Low Earth Orbit satellites (LEOSAR) and geo-stationary satellites (GEOSAR) and supporting ground stations around the world. The second-generation system is currently deploying hosted payloads on a range of GNSS satellites in Medium Earth Orbit (MEOSAR) which will improve system performance, both in geo-location accuracy and latency of emergency beacon activation detection.

The Cospas-Sarsat systems uses a single 100kHz worldwide spectrum allocation at 406 MHz to support maritime, aviation and land-based search and rescue for safety of life.

Current limitations and issues with the current system include:

  • Low powered beacon (user segment) combined with current satellite design severely limits communications performance, particularly during an emergency. Very little useful information content can be exchanged during the emergency.
  • False alarms can result in unnecessary search and rescue operations that are expensive and high-risk to emergency and military personnel
  • Beacon life and reliability can be uncertain
  • Location accuracy can be poor – first generation systems provide a 1km CEP and second- generation systems offer 150m without access to GNSS. This inaccuracy limits applications
  • High cost – low production quantities and beacon design result in higher cost per unit limiting market potential.
  • Regional uptake is low – currently the USA and Australia represent the bulk of global ownership of beacons
  • No integration – the beacon design limits the ability for value-added integration with contemporary personal devices such as smart watches, smart phones.


Australian expertise in reliable, power and bandwidth efficient satellite communication is contributing to new thinking about this legacy search and rescue system. The intent is to develop a new satellite communications protocols for a third-generation system featuring increased capacity, greater service reliability, two-way connectivity and improved location estimation.

There are opportunities to explore utilisation of emerging Australian technology through existing Cospas-Sarsat infrastructure and extension to new satellite developments and safety of life for space exploration, in partnership with the Australian Space Agency and NASA.

For example, it was recently announced that Australian research into advanced search and rescue technologies would contribute to the NASA Artemis LunaNet architecture .
Future phases of the SmartSat CRC 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 if needed for egress from capsule after splashdown or 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.

Developing a contemporary implementation of a safety of life personal device that can be mass produced at low cost and with high reliability will create scope for Australian industry to lead international production and supply regional countries with personal beacons. Increased capacity in the overall system will enable new applications for emergency services and remote workforce. The ability to integrate contemporary consumer devices could allow Australian developers to generate new business models and identify new markets/customers.


1. Open discussions with the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) to explore the potential to advocate for the need to develop next generation search and rescue system to support adoption of Australian technology as a standard.

2. Scope and resource R&D project(s) to develop, prototype and demonstrate 3G beacon waveforms and networking protocols.

3. Support the Australian contribution to the NASA Project Artemis and the LunaNet architecture. This could lead to a highly visible Australian contribution to safety of life for all humans involved in lunar and planetary exploration under the Moon to Mars initiative.

4. Explore the potential for Modern Manufacturing Initiative support to develop advanced electronic manufacturing capabilities within Australia targeting satellite consumer devices for a global market