S'pore upgrades its search and rescue capability

New $8.4m system uses better positioned satellites to get distress signals faster and more accurately

In a bid to improve the country's search and rescue capabilities, the Singapore authorities have invested in a new $8.4 million satellite technology system which will be fully operational next year.

The medium-altitude earth orbit search and rescue (MEOSAR) ground system uses medium-altitude earth orbit satellites to receive distress signals emitted from emergency beacons activated by aircraft, ships or people in distress.

The ground segment - the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS) and Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) - upon receiving information from the satellites will then alert the relevant search and rescue agencies.

MEOSAR has a greater position accuracy for faster detection and location of vessels or people in distress, compared with the low-altitude earth orbit search and rescue (LEOSAR) ground system, which is being used currently.

"In any search and rescue mission, time is of the essence," said Mr Andrew Tan, chief executive of MPA, adding that the new system will allow for an expeditious deployment of assets to save lives.

Mr Kevin Shum, the director-general of CAAS, said his organisation is "committed to ensuring that prompt assistance is available to persons in distress within the Singapore search and rescue region."

The adoption of the MEOSAR ground system is an initiative under the humanitarian Cospas-Sarsat programme, an international satellite-based search and rescue alert programme for aviation, maritime and land users in distress.

Singapore has been an active participant of the programme since 1991 and is a ground segment provider. It is responsible for the sending of emergency messages to search and rescue points-of-contact such as Brunei, Malaysia and Myanmar.

Singapore's new system will also complement Cospas-Sarsat's upgrading of its satellite system, which will see the existing LEOSAR system eventually phased out.

The MEOSAR ground system is expected to be fully operational when enough MEOSAR satellites and commissioned ground stations are available to provide "worldwide, near-real-time coverage".

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 25, 2017, with the headline 'S'pore upgrades its search and rescue capability'. Print Edition | Subscribe