Maritime Search and Rescue (SAR) services exist to assist people in distress or danger at sea by undertaking several activities such as assisting ships and vessels in difficulty, accidents prevention, search and rescue, medical consultations and patients transport. These operations are unfortunately popular due to migration aspects.

On the basis of the above scenario, the SARA consortium has been contacted by the Italian Coast Guard in order to provide a technological contribution supporting vessels to detect people lost at sea, especially during the hours of darkness.

According to the above request, the SARA project has developed a technological solution to manage migration aspects which include both Surveillance and Search and Rescue operations.

The SARA Solution: Remotely Piloted Aircraft System

The SARA solution is conceived to build up a semi-automatic system using Earth Observation data to preliminary detect suspect pontoons’ trajectories (Surveillance) and supporting SAR operations based upon a deployable RPAS (Remotely Piloted Aircraft System) which is tightly connected with a ship architecture through a cable (tethered flight): as soon as its function is needed, the aircraft flies from its home (a dedicated hangar on the top of the ship), and becomes a "virtual pylon" which elevates a VIS-TIR sensor (Visual Spectrum and Thermal Infrared); captured images are processed in real time by a local computer.

Both RPAS and hangar are equipped with two high accuracy Galileo ready GNSS receivers in order to provide the relative positioning between the hangar and the RPA hovering on the target.

EGNSS usage as enabling technology

The RPAS has to operate in a Dynamic environment; flying tethered to a ship moving (with a velocity of several m/s) over the sea and having position and attitude quickly and unpredictably varying over time.

RPAS semi-automatic take-off and landing are critical phase too as performed on board a ship, which is moving. More importantly, the landing area is narrow on a ship. In order to land RPAS in such a rapidly changing environment requires a high-precision navigation system on-board RPAS.

Considering the afore mentioned challenges, The EGNSS technology represents an essential asset and it is noteworthy that EGNSS receivers installed on board the RPAS may also allow to better evaluate the attitude and the azimuth which is important to detect the survivors position with reference to the ship location.

SARA Innovative System Concept

The original necessity for the SARA product comes from issues related to Search and Rescue (SAR) operations encountered by personnel of the Coast Guard during their save and rescue missions, which are concentrated in detecting people lost in the sea during their attempt to reach Italian coasts, especially during night.

The Coast Guard is allowed to be helped by helicopters equipped with thermal cameras only during daylight time, because flight is forbidden for flying personnel during night hours.

SARA’s innovative approach solves this main problem, because the ship is equipped with a thermal camera boarded on a semi-automatic and tethered RPAS, able to operate in standalone mode up to 100 meters above the ship, with minor ground control workload. This operational approach is possible thanks to EGNSS technology providing accurate feedback about the RPAS and the hangar baseline, making the solution more reliable.

The direct benefits of the SARA solution include:

  • Continuity of Service during S.A.R. operations
  • Cost-effective solution compared to Helicopter operations
  • Extended surveillance area (RPA area)
  • Shorter surveillance time
  • Identification and localisation of floating/hot objects
  • More reliable surveillance and fast deployment solution
  • Automated Take-off/Landing procedures
  • Automated Follow-the-ship functionality.