NASA tests beacon for safe recovery of astronauts on Artemis missions
November 09, 2021
NASA and the U.S. Navy are wrapping up the ninth in a series of tests at sea. They’re verifying and validating procedures and hardware that will be used to recover the Orion spacecraft after it splashes down in the Pacific Ocean following deep space exploration missions.
This test is the last of the series before the uncrewed Artemis I that will pave the way for future missions to the Moon with astronauts. NASA’s Landing and Recovery Team is practicing a variety of procedures that enable the safe recovery of astronauts and the Orion spacecraft. NASA’s Search and Rescue (SAR) office—part of the agency’s Space Communications and Navigation (SCaN) program—is testing critical distress beacon technologies for Artemis contingency operations.
The Cospas-Sarsat program is an international effort to provide first-responders with satellite-aided distress location services. Since its founding in 1979, NASA has lent technical expertise to the program.
The Cospas-Sarsat system uses a protected 406 MHz frequency to provide accurate and reliable emergency location services. Cospas-Sarsat repeaters on GPS and other similar space-based systems “listen” for beacons and relay signals to ground stations upon activation. While the system operates independently of GPS, it can also transmit GPS coordinates for enhanced accuracy if available.
“NASA search and rescue initiatives have paved the way for rescue authorities around the world to develop new technologies and techniques to rescue people on land, air, and sea,” said JJ Miller, SCaN deputy director for GPS Policy. “It is only natural that NASA enhances these services even further to focus on our primary human exploration missions as well.”
For Artemis missions, astronauts plan to stay inside Orion until recovery forces reach them. In the unlikely event that astronauts need to leave Orion before the recovery team reaches them, NASA will track and retrieve them using specialized Advanced Next-Generation Emergency Locator (ANGEL) beacons on their life vests.
“The Artemis missions are using our newest technologies, setting the stage for further enhancements and availability to other users,” said SAR Office Chief Lisa Mazzuca. “These new innovations take full advantage of upgrades to the Cospas-Sarsat space segment.”
ANGEL beacons are refined and miniaturized second-generation beacon technology developed by the SAR office, based at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. They offer robust location services through Cospas-Sarsat. Within moments of activation, the network can calculate the astronauts’ location to an accuracy of about a hundred meters anywhere in the world.