You are on page 1of 4

Paula Cleggett-Haleim Headquarters, Washington, D.C.

July 16, 1992 (Phone: 202/453-1547) Jim Elliott Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md. (Phone: 301/286-6256) RELEASE: 92-115 NASA EXPERIMENT COULD SAVE LIVES, TIME AND MONEY A group of dedicated Alaskans has started a 3-year experiment that ultimately could result in saving the lives of thousands of campers, hunters, boaters and others. The Alaskans will test the use of a small emergency radio transmitter, known as a Personal Locator Beacon or PLB, to communicate with a 10-year-old search and rescue satellite system that up to now has been used primarily for aircraft and ship emergencies. "We are confident the experiment will prove the value of these emergency devices," explained Wayne Hembree, NASA's Search and Rescue Mission Manager at Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md. "Use of the beacons by people in remote areas undoubtedly will save lives," he continued. "Their use also will lower search times and costs and reduce the dangers to personnel conducting the rescue missions." The experiment is being carried out with the cooperation of NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the U.S. Air Force and the U.S. Coast Guard.

International Program Successful The satellite system, an international program known as COSPAS-SARSAT, has been responsible for saving more than 2,300 lives since it was started in 1982. Principal partners in this program are Canada, France, Russia and the United States. - more -2That PLB program calls for four low-Earth-orbiting satellites to be in operation. Currently, there are six satellites -- three Russian and three U.S. -- circling the Earth in polar orbit. However, only four are fully operational, the other two having lost some of their capabilities. The Russian satellites primarily are navigational aids for that nation's ocean-going merchant marine. The U.S. satellites are meteorological satellites. In both cases, the search and rescue equipment "piggy backs" on the satellites as a secondary payload. When an aircraft or ship is in distress, an emergency signal normally will be transmitted. The signal will be "heard" by one of the satellites, which relays the information to ground stations around the world. Alert information, including identification and location, is forwarded by the ground stations to search and rescue forces, and rescue efforts are begun. Until now, the only government-approved emergency beacons are Emergency Locator Transmitters (ELTs) for aircraft and Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacons for ships. The PLB experiment is designed to prove the need for a lightweight beacon that can be carried and used in an emergency by individuals. The test is being funded by the North Slope Borough Search and Rescue Department (NSBSAR), according to Charles Caldwell, the project coordinator for the borough. NSBSAR provides year-round assistance to overdue hunters, boaters, whaling crews and aircraft, employing a staff of 14 personnel, three aircraft and two helicopters.

Most Remote Alaskan Area The North Slope Borough is one of the most remote areas of Alaska. It covers 92,000 square miles (an area about the size of Utah) and has what might be described as eight towns and villages. There are no roads to speak of, and travel is accomplished by amphibious vehicle in the summer and by snowmobile in the winter, Caldwell explained. Twenty beacons, which currently cost between $1,200 and $1,700, will be used in the experiment. The beacons, which transmit the emergency signal on a 406 Megahertz (Mhz) frequency and have a 121.5 Mhz signal to allow search parties to "home-in" on the location, will be loaned to qualified applicants.

- more -3The beacons not only will help save lives, Caldwell explained, but also will lower costs of search operations. The operational cost of one of the borough's helicopters, for example, runs $3,000 an hour. Multiply that by the number of missions flown in a year, and the savings could really mount up, he explained. During the first 6 months of this year, he continued, the borough conducted 30 search missions, rescuing 29 persons. In most cases, he explained, the search plane or helicopter proceeded to the village nearest the emergency, picked up a spotter and began the search. The search under those circumstances can take hours or even days. With a PLB, he said, the emergency signal would be picked up by a satellite within 55 minutes, the information sent to a rescue coordination center, and the rescue party could be at the scene shortly thereafter. In pre-experiment trials, Caldwell said, the PLB has brought searchers to within six-tenths of a mile and never more than 1.3 miles of the distress situation. Caldwell said the borough hopes to

petition the Federal Communications Commission to approve the use of PLBs in about a year. Caldwell and the search and rescue people face somewhat of a paradoxical situation. They do not want to see people in emergency situations on the one hand. However, statistics are needed to show the value of the PLBs by an accounting of the number of rescue missions and lives saved to support the petition. Caldwell knows what a person experiences in an emergency of that type. Since 1983, using the aircraft ELT for signalling a satellite, he has been rescued three times when something went wrong with his aircraft or another plane in the rescue party. - end EDITORS NOTE: One photograph to illustrate this release is available to the news media by calling NASA's Broadcast and Imaging Branch on 202/453-8375. B&W: 92-H-439