Galileo & ReturnLink Rescue Solutions

What is Galileo?

Galileo is the European Union’s Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) constellation, which reached its operational phase in 2017, allowing technology with a Galileo-enabled receiver to use signals provided by Galileo’s global satellite constellation for positioning, navigation and timing.

Galileo’s development is part of the EU’s preparations for upgrading the international distress beacon locating organisation COSPAS SARSAT’s Search and Rescue (SAR) Ecosystem
under the MEOSAR program, which requires new earth based antenna and a network of 72 SAR satellites, made up of the US GPS, EU Galileo and Russian Glonass constellations.

What Impact will Galileo have on search and rescue?

Galileo’s immediate impact on Search and rescue (SAR) has been the addition of 26 new satellites, allowing greater global coverage, with faster detection of the 406MHz distress frequency. Coupled with Galileo’s precision GNSS capabilities, SAR beacons with Galileo receiver’s location detection is greatly accelerated. Interaction with the GPS network has also created a Canyon Effect capability that allows signal detection in areas with previously limited coverage.

The Second major impact will be the Return Link Service (RLS), a re-assurance signal back to a new generation of SAR beacons to inform the user that their distress signal and location have been detected. This new capability is unique to the Galileo satellites and is due to be activated in early 2020.


How does the ReturnLink Service contact the beacon to confirm distress detection?

The confirmation signal for ReturnLink will be the activation of a blue light on a new range of beacons as the blue light is widely seen as being associated with the emergency services. The flashing blue light is sent around 15minutes after confirmation that the distress signal has been detected and the beacons location independently located.


Who Manages the Return Link Service (RLS)?

The Galileo Return Link Service Provider based at CNES headquarters in Toulouse, where the Cospas-Sarsat French Mission Control Centre is also operated. This facility is in charge of the management of the Return Link Messages and their coordination with the Cospas-Sarsat network and with the Galileo Ground Mission Segment on the transmission of messages to the distress beacons through the Galileo E1 signal.


What Impact is the new Galileo Satellites having on Search and rescue?

The SAR community have long known the survival impact of dealing with a distress situation on your own, either as a solo adventurer or as a group that feels isolated due to lack of communication with the outside world. Knowing that others are aware of your situation can greatly improve your mental strength for the challenges you are facing. Return Links reassurance signal will also reduce the chances of rash decisions taken by those who feel they have nothing to lose, like leaving the site of an accident or attempting to swim to safety. Knowing that SAR professionals know your situation and location will be an invaluable support. From a technical perspective the two-way interaction of the beacon helps reassure users, often unfamiliar with the technology, that it’s activated and doing what it needs to do.

ReturnLink PLB

ReturnLink PLB
The FastFind ReturnLink has not been authorised as required by the rules of the FCC in the USA. This device is not, and may not be offered for sale in the USA, until authorisation is obtained.

What is the FastFind ReturnLink PLB?

A new type of lifesaving distress beacon, the FastFind ReturnLink PLB, utilises unique functionality generated by Galileo satellite constellations Return Link Service to send a signal back to the FastFind ReturnLink beacon confirming the users 406MHz distress alert has been received and Galileo GNSS location coordinates have been detected.


When will the ReturnLink PLB be available?

Orolia Maritime will launch the new FastFind ReturnLink PLB at Mets 2019 but the unit will only be available to purchase when Galileo confirm that the system is fully operational, which is expected in late 2019 or early 2020.


Will RLS feature only be available in PLBs?

The RLS feature is already available as an option in Orolia’s latest aviation ELT, the Kannad ULTIMA-S and will also be released later in 2020 as an EPIRB with an updated version of Orolia Maritime’s unique SmartFind & SafePro AIS range.

Is RLS unique to Orolia Beacons?

Galileo’s RLS functionality will be available to any beacon manufacturer that update their design to incorporate the necessary hardware. However, only Orolia has the history of supporting the development of the MEOSAR ground and space infrastructure, Galileo satellite timing components and leadership of the EU’s Helios project to support development of the next generation of SAR beacons to utilise the benefits of Galileo.


If I have an existing beacon with Galileo GNSS will it now have access to RLS?

World’s First Galileo PLB’s the McMurdo FastFind 220 (2019) & the Kannad Solo (2019).
World’s First Galileo PLB’s
the McMurdo FastFind 220 (2019)
& the Kannad Solo (2019).

Unfortunately, the components and specifications required to provide RLS aren’t backward compatible and will require an RLS enabled beacon, such as the new FastFind ReturnLink, to be accessible. The existing Orolia Maritime range of EPIRBs and PLBs with multi constellation GNSS including Galileo still offer incredible accelerated detection capacities but don’t have the reassurance signal.

Does Galileo replace GPS?

No, Galileo is the European equivalent of the US GPS system. It adds significant extra global detection for beacons and precision location detection GNSS capabilities working alongside the existing GPS and Russian Glonass constellations.


What is Operation Shark Bait?

Operation Shark Bait was a live rescue demonstration organised by the European Commission that has helped create a clear user case for adopting beacons that access the latest search and rescue capabilities, without having to be fully versed on the technicalities of satellite frequencies.

Operation Shark Bait placed a volunteer in a lifeboat off the Belgium coast with a Galileo enabled FastFind 220 PLB (2019). The subsequent 406MHz signal from the PLB was detected by the search and rescue payloads on Galileo and the data relayed to the Toulouse centre of French space agency CNES, then to the Belgium’s Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre, based in Oostende where the location coordinates are shared with the helicopter / boat.

Operation Shark Bait alert detection, location confirmation and notification process took just three minutes 32 seconds, whereas previous to the development of Galileo this process could have required up to 1 to 4 hours to complete.

The education significance of this project has been invaluable, both to understanding the impact of the investment in the MEOSAR program to upgrade Cospas Sarsat and the joint effect of the new Galileo satellite constellation and the precision of the first generation of Galileo enabled beacons.

Learn more about Galileo and the Return Link Service

Accelerated Rescue Capabilities with Galileo Powered Beacons (PDF)
Will You Be Ready For Galileo’s Return Link Service in 2020? (Blog)
FastFind ReturnLink™ Personal Locator Beacon F.A.Q (PDF)
FastFind ReturnLink™ Personal Locator Beacon DataSheet (PDF)
Press Release: Orolia Maritime reveals new PLB with Return Link System for 2020
MEOSAR and the Launch of the ReturnLink Service (Video)