Staff members from the Air and Missile Defense Sector at The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) are working with NASA Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC) and its partners to upgrade NASA’s Search and Rescue (SAR) system.

Lab experts are supplementing legacy reflector antennas with a phased-array antenna system, an element-level-digital phased-array antenna that may offer better performance, reliability and maintainability.

“The SAR system at GSFC is a Medium Earth Orbit Local User Terminal (MEOLUT) in the Medium Earth Orbit Search and Rescue System of the Cospas-Sarsat Program. The Cospas-Sarsat Program is an international SAR distress alerting satellite system, a network of distress beacons, relay satellites and ground-based user interfaces that alerts rescue teams of people in distress and their locations,” said project engineer Chris Dura. “A user activates a distress beacon that broadcasts to satellites within the beacon’s field of view.”

The satellite then relays the distress signal to user terminals — like the technology at Goddard — which process the signal and alert rescue teams.

“The system has become an important life-saving technology, and one NASA and the Lab are proud to support,” Dura said. “But it’s also in need of an update.”