Aerospace and Defense

US to Acquire Thales’ Advanced Ground Segment Technology to Respond to Distress Signals

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in the United States, has chosen Thales to develop and build an operational ground station in the southwest part of the country, at Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico, to track Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) satellites operating in medium Earth orbit (MEO).

The ground station will receive and process 406 megahertz distress beacon signals from the MEO satellites being tracked, and relay them to the US SARSAT (Search and Rescue Satellite Aided Tracking) program’s Mission Control Center (USMCC), via U.S. government communication links, for validation and distribution to rescue authorities, according to a Thales Alenia Space press release issued on Monday. This ground station will be designated the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Southwest USA Medium-Earth Orbit Local User Terminal (SUSA MEOLUT), and will be an integral part of the MEO-based ground system operated by the USMCC.

SUSA MEOLUT will be working in conjunction with NOAA’s two operational MEOLUTs, located at the U.S. Coast Guard’s (USCG) COMMSTA stations in Honolulu and Miami. It is expected to be an operational part of the NOAA SARSAT system on a 24/7 basis. The MEO system, which provides distress alert and location data for search and rescue (SAR) authorities in near real-time, uses spacecraft and ground facilities to detect and locate signals from the 406 megahertz distress beacons.

By deploying Thales Alenia Space’s powerful and compact MEOLUT Next phased array solution, the United States will benefit from the world’s first spaceborne search and rescue system of this type. Thales Alenia Space, a Joint Venture between Thales (67 %) and Leonardo (33 %), 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 kilometers away, according to Thales. Both France, Europe, Canada and Togo have already ordered Thales Alenia Space’s MEOLUT Next, and several more potential international customers are expected to announce their decisions shortly.

Related Reading: The Cospas-Sarsat MEOSAR System: A Solution to Support ICAO GADSS Autonomous Distress Tracking Recommendation 

“We are confident that our solution will meet and exceed NOAA SARSAT’s expectations, and provide decisive help to the UASA region,” said Philippe Blatt, Vice President, Navigation France at Thales Alenia Space, in the press release. “Today, MEOLUT Next is the only solution in the world capable of processing second-generation beacons in real time. Its operational efficiency was recently recognized by Space & Satellite Professionals International (SSPI) for its humanitarian contributions and the European Commission as well as governments of Togo and Canada have already selected this technology.”

This new capability saves lives. On July 2, 2017 at 6:30 a.m., 70 kilometers off the coast of Sardinia, a 12-meter sailboat with three people aboard triggered its Cospas-Sarsat beacon when its rudder broke and its engine failed. Its VHF radio out of range, the sailors quickly realized they were in a critical situation with waves over four meters high and the wind blowing at 40 knots. MEOLUT Next was able to receive and process their distress signals in less than five minutes, providing accurate positioning to authorities. An airplane identified the boat less than two hours after the beacon was triggered and a helicopter airlifted the crew to safety, saving all three lives.

MEOLUT Next
Conventional MEOLUT (Medium Earth Orbit Local User Terminal) systems use large parabolic antennas and are limited by how many satellite signals they can receive. Thales Alenia Space’s MEOLUT Next solution is compact, measuring less than six square meters, with the ability to track up to 30 satellites, significantly enhancing the distress beacon detection rate while expanding the coverage zone. Since there are no mechanical components, hardware maintenance costs are low, according to Thales.

By Inside GNSS
October 15, 2018

BeiDou’s Progress Continues with China’s Latest Launch of Twin BeiDou-3 Satellites

China sent twin BeiDou-3 navigation satellites into space on a Long March-3B carrier rocket from Xichang Satellite Launch Center in Sichuan Province at 12:23 p.m. Monday.

The satellites entered their planned orbit after flying more than three hours, and will work with the 14 BeiDou-3 satellites already in orbit, according to the state-run Xinhua press agency. The satellites are the 39th and 40th of the BeiDou navigation system, and the 15th and 16th of the BeiDou-3 family.

The satellites and the rocket for Monday’s launch were developed by the Innovation Academy for Microsatellites of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology, respectively. The launch was the 287th mission of the Long March rocket series.

This latest launch of the two new satellites is just another part in what has been an intensive launch year for BeiDou satellites. China plans to send another three BeiDou-3 satellites into space to form a basic system to provide services for countries participating in the Belt and Road Initiative, by the end of the year.

In July, Inside GNSS reported on the launch of the 32nd satellite of the BeiDou navigation system, and one of the BeiDou-2 family, which is the second generation of the system.

Over the past five years, the system has helped rescue more than 10,000 fishermen, and more than 40,000 fishing vessels and around 4.8 million commercial vehicles in China are equipped with BeiDou, according to the Xinhua press agency. The newest satellites are designed to bolster China’s ambitious Space Silk Road project – the country’s program to boost its global revenue from positioning and navigation systems.

Related Reading: White Paper, Press Conference Reveal China’s Current Plans for BeiDou Navigation System

The system is also helping monitor the structural integrity of highways, pipelines, dams and bridges. More than 300 million mobile phones, 40 percent of all smartphones in China, can connect to BeiDou.

The system now covers more than 50 countries with a total population of more than 3 billion. By 2020, BeiDou is expected to provide first-class services around the globe.

It’s not just China that will take advantage of BeiDou. The satellites function in three categories, with the BDS-1 system providing positioning, navigation, and timing services throughout China, followed by the BDS-2 offering the same across the Asia-Pacific region. The BDS-3 will cover countries connected by China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

By Inside GNSS

INTO ORBIT℠ with 2018 FIRST® LEGO® League Competition

How can I walk my dog on the Moon? What happens if I sneeze in space? Just some of the questions that more than 500,000 children around the world will be asking and attempting to answer over the next months, as part of this year’s FIRST LEGO League competition, a global STEM program with an annual theme that inspires and challenges young engineers and scientists.

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By Inside GNSS
October 5, 2018

Selective Availability, IoT, Suez Canal Visit, Featured at Arab Institute of Navigation Conference

The recently concluded Arab Institute of Navigation biennial conference in Cairo, “GNSS, the Key to Innovation,” featured a wide variety of presentations of interest to navigators and technologists alike.

Presenters ranged from representatives of the European Space Agency (ESA) and NASA, to those from a transportation company that uses GNSS-enabled tracking while transporting priceless ancient artifacts to the under-construction Grand Egyptian Museum.

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By Inside GNSS
October 4, 2018

Protecting GNSS and Users – The Ideal APNT

According to the European Commission “…GNSS cannot be the sole means of PNT information … for critical applications requiring continuous availability and fail-safe operations.”

Similar realizations in the United States, United, Kingdom, South Korea and elsewhere have led to a revitalization of efforts to examine Alternative Positioning, Navigation and Timing (APNT) systems that could complement and reinforce our exceptionally valuable, yet vulnerable, GNSS signals.

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By Inside GNSS
October 3, 2018

Europe To Mandate Smart Phones Use Galileo Signals

The European Commission (EC) is on track to mandate that smart phones in the European Union (EU) be capable of using signals from the Galileo satellite navigation system as well as other systems including GPS.

The move is part of a broad space strategy launched in October 2016 to strengthen the EU’s space program and maximize its benefits.

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By Dee Ann Divis
September 26, 2018

DHS Taking a Risk-Based Look at PNT Resilience

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has launched a new effort to ascertain the real-world risks posed by the loss of positioning, navigation and timing (PNT) service and how those risks might be reduced, said James Platt, director of DHS’s PNT Program Management Office. On the table is testing, best practices, partnerships, a new management approach and possibly standards and a backup system.

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By Dee Ann Divis

Security and SatNav Experts Agree: GPS Is a Cybersecurity Issue

The new Cybersecurity Solarium Commission should consider addressing GPS vulnerabilities as it develops a strategy to protect the U.S. against attacks on its computer systems and infrastructure, experts agreed.

Inspired by an analysis that guided officials during the Cold War, the U.S. is about to launch a yearlong assessment of its cybersecurity situation with the goal of devising a long-term strategy

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By Dee Ann Divis
September 24, 2018

Change Is Coming: 
The Space Force and SMC 2.0

While threats to American defense satellites were climbing sharply, the costs and schedules of U.S. military space programs were on the same unsustainable trajectory — prompting lawmakers last year to begin trying to reorganize Air Force’s military space programs by creating a Space Corps. A move that, so far, has failed.

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By Dee Ann Divis
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