A sailor from the Vendée Globe sailboat race around the world was devastated in the Southern Ocean when raging waves wrecked his ship. But it was saved thanks to search and rescue antennas on European Galileo satellites, part of the international Cospas-Sarsat rescue system.
Patron Kevin Escoffier later recounted Monday afternoon’s ordeal: “Do you see images of the shipwrecked? It was so, but worse. In four seconds the boat sounded, the bow bent 90 degrees. I put my head in the cabin, a wave was coming. I had time to send a text before frying the electronic waves. He was completely insane. He folded the boat twice. “
After a few minutes he took his raft: “I wish I could have been a little longer on the boat but I saw that everything was going very fast and then I took a break and went into the water with the raft. At the time, I wasn’t at all calm … You’re in a raft with 35 knots in the wind. No, it’s not relaxing. “
For the next 11 hours Kevin Escoffier was left adrift by rough winds and rising waves. But he was not entirely alone. When its raft went into the water, it automatically activated the rescue light, which automatically transmitted 406 MHz SOS signal to the participating satellites, thanks to the Cospas-Sarsat satellite emergency detection and location system.
Cospas-Sarsat, the only system that can independently locate a beacon anywhere on the Earth’s surface, has helped save thousands of people since its inception in 1982. Initially the system operated via a transponder located in low orbit Earth or geostable satellites. In the last decade Galileo joined Cospas-Sarsat – the European Commission, assisted by the owner of the system – significantly increasing performance.
With a high orbital altitude of 23,222 km, while constantly moving across the sky, Galileo satellites combine broad views of the Earth to quickly determine the position of an emergency signal through delay and combination. Doppler range.
At 13:48:51 UTC on Monday, the French Mission Control Center (FMCC) of the Cospas-Sarsat system is located in Tolosa and the French space agency CNES manages the first alert through the search and rescue of a trio of Galileo satellites. Search and Rescue (SAR) / Galileo Medium Earth Orbit Local User Terminal (MEOLUT) Cyprus. These are three MEOLUTS, placed within the framework of the European Galileo program and its European contribution to the Cospas-Sarsat system.
The next step was to locate the origin of the signal, which was obtained two minutes later at 13: 51.07 UTC, specifying the source at the Service Center of the South African Mission Control Center (ASMCC), which extends from southern Africa to the Antarctic coast. – To a location about 1000 km from Cape of Good Hope.
The alert was immediately sent to the Australian Mission Control Center (AUMCC) in Canberra, Australia, including the region for the distribution of its data to South Africa.
At the same time, an alert was also sent to the French CROSS Gris-Nez center – the national liaison point for events in Cospas-Sarsat – and was immediately reported to the Vendée Globe Race Management in Les Sables d’Olonne. The team was able to call on rival runner Jean Le Cam, the closest competitor to the dead sailor, to look for him.
As Race Director Jacques Caraës explained: “When we saw that the EPIRB (Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon) position matched the track to predict drift, we sent Jean to that point.”
After repeated attempts, Le Cam was finally able to safely take Escoffier on Tuesday morning at 0118hrs UTC. Meanwhile the race organizers used beacon signals as the basis for a broader search effort to help call other skippers. More signals were received at the FMCC in Tolosa on Monday evening at 14:10:34 UTC and then periodically to monitor the gradually drifting signal source.
European satellite navigation
Galileo is a global satellite navigation system in Europe. It provides accurate and reliable information on location and time for cars, railways, aircraft and other autonomous and connected sectors. Galileo has been in operation since December 2016, when it began offering initial services to public authorities, businesses and citizens.
Supporting 26 satellites and terrestrial infrastructure in orbit, Galileo now offers three Initial Services after a long test. Its search and rescue services help the organization to find international stress beacons Cospsas-Sarsat. Galileo’s data helps locate beacons and rescue people in distress in all types of environments.
ESA acts as the architect of the Galileo and EGNOS infrastructure system. It manages its design, development, procurement, dissemination and validation on behalf of the EU. ESA will maintain this function throughout the life of the systems and will provide technical assistance to the European GNSS Agency (GSA), which has been appointed by the Commission to operate the system and provide Galileo and EGNOS services.
Founded in 2004, GSA is responsible for managing various activities related to Galileo and EGNOS. It is about preparing for the successful commercialization and operation of both systems; Contribute to the use and marketing of GNSS activities; and ensuring system security, in particular by creating and operating Galileo Security Monitoring Centers.
Both entities are collaborating with the European Commission, which owns the program.