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In addition to their well-known role in predicting weather, NOAA satellites played a vital role in the rescue of 250 people last year from potentially life-threatening situations throughout the United States and its surrounding waters.
NOAA satellites are part of the International Search and Rescue Satellite Aided Tracking System, known as COSPAS-SARSAT. This system uses a network of spacecraft to detect and locate distress signals quickly from emergency beacons onboard aircraft and boats, and from hand-held Personal Locator Beacons or PLBs.
With specialized technology onboard, NOAA’s polar-orbiting and geostationary satellites can detect the location of downed pilots, shipwrecked boaters and stranded hikers. As the satellites capture the distress signal, it is relayed to the SARSAT Mission Control Center based at NOAA’s Satellite Operations Facility in Suitland, Maryland. From there, the information is quickly sent to a Rescue Coordination Center, operated by either the U.S. Air Force for land rescues, or the U.S. Coast Guard for water rescues.
“While NOAA satellites are important tools for generating your local weather forecast, they can also mean the difference between life and death if you find yourself stranded in the wilderness or at sea,” said Chris O’Connors, NOAA SARSAT program manager.
Of last year’s 250 saves, 138 rescues were on the water, 21 were aviation incidents, and 91 were land-based events, where PLBs were used.