The personal locator beacon on his life raft was activated and the signal was picked up by several Galileo satellites, which transmitted the information to several search and rescue alert processing centres. The permanent and global presence of Galileo satellites fitted with “Search and Rescue” transponders makes it possible to locate positions instantaneously and with excellent accuracy. In around fifteen minutes, Escoffier’s distress position was confirmed and transmitted to another Vendée Globe competitor, Jean Le Cam, who was able to reach the location given by the beacon and rescue him.
Since 2016, the satellites of the Galileo European navigation system have been used by the international search and rescue programme Cospas-Sarsat.
The 20,000 km altitude satellite constellation (with currently 24 in orbit) provides continuous and around the globe coverage. This is a significant improvement over the past, when only a few low Earth observation satellites in low orbit were equipped with beacon detection capabilities. Their low altitude and limited number did not allow for global coverage and did not ensure immediate detection.
The Galileo SAR ground stations that receive the signals relayed by satellites are in charge of calculating positions and relaying the information to the Toulouse-based CNES mission centre, which in turn transfers the data to rescue centres in the area where the beacon was located.
In addition, Copernicus also plays a key role for navigators as they use the information provided by Copernicus Sentinel-1 and satellites that are essential for altimetry (such as Copernicus Sentinel-3) to detect icebergs, for example.
The space-based radar returns Earth and sea surface images through clouds and rain, both day and night, which is ideal for monitoring iceberg positions. On-board technologies, such as in Copernicus Sentinel-3, measure differences in sea surface height, thus also the height of any ice floe. These satellites have been used to study Arctic and Antarctic ice, allowing experts to recognise iceberg signatures in altimetry data.
Based on complementary radar and altimetry data, CLS, a CNES subsidiary, has set up an Antarctic ice exclusion zone, in close collaboration with the race management team, to keep Vendée Globe sailors safe from threatening bergs. The team can update this exclusion zone during the race if necessary.
While Copernicus Sentinel-1 provides relevant images to map sea ice and icebergs for safe sailing in the Arctic, it was tasked in particular, on behalf of the EU, to map critical areas in the Southern Ocean around Antarctica for the Vendée Globe.
Sentinel-1 provides iceberg detection maps for these areas a few days ahead of the sailors so that the race organisers have an up-to-date overview of the situation around Antarctica.
- 2 December 2020
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