NOAA’s Polar-Orbiting and Geostationary Satellites Helped Save 350 Lives in 2023

NOAA’s Polar-Orbiting and Geostationary Satellites Helped Save 350 Lives in 2023

NOAA’s satellites, known for their pivotal role in tracking weather and climate, were behind the rescue of 350 people from harrowing, life-threatening ordeals in the U.S. and its surrounding waters in 2023. 

NOAA’s polar-orbiting and geostationary satellites are part of the global Search and Rescue Satellite Aided Tracking system, or COSPAS-SARSAT, which uses a network of U.S. and international spacecraft to detect and locate distress signals sent from 406MHz emergency beacons onboard aircraft, boats and handheld Personal Locator Beacons (PLBs) anywhere in the world. Since its start in 1982, COSPAS-SARSAT has been credited with supporting more than 48,000 rescues worldwide, including more than 10,455 throughout the U.S. and the waters that surround it.

Of the 350 U.S. rescues last year, 255 people were pulled from the water, 44 were saved from aviation incidents and 51 were rescued on land, where  PLBs were used. The record one-year total for SARSAT rescues in the U.S. stands at 421 in 2019.

Florida had the most people rescued with 83, followed by Hawaii with 52 and Alaska with 49. 

Photo of a U.S. Coast Guard Air Station Sitka rescue swimmer hoists a Royal Canadian Air Force search and rescue technician while conducting joint training in Sitka Sound, Alaska, Feb. 17, 2019. Today 98% of all 406 ELT, EPIRB and PLB Beacon activations are false alarms. Beacon registration information means that most inadvertent activation cases are resolved with a phone call.

When a NOAA satellite pinpoints the location of a distress signal in the U.S., the information is relayed to the SARSAT Mission Control Center at NOAA’s Satellite Operations Facility in Suitland, Maryland. From there, the information is quickly sent to Rescue Coordination Centers, operated either by the U.S. Air Force for land rescues, or the U.S. Coast Guard (USGC) for maritime rescues. NOAA also supports rescues globally by relaying distress signal information to international COSPAS-SARSAT partners.

Here’s a glimpse at three notable rescues from 2023:

  • On June 12, just south of Gulf Shores, Alabama, the USGC rescued nine people from a fishing boat after its engines lost power. The crew activated the onboard beacon, which provided the location of the stranded vessel. 
  • On September 5, a mid-air collision between a helicopter and an aircraft resulted in minor injuries to seven passengers. The Alaska Rescue Coordination Center received the coordinates from an onboard Emergency Locator Transmitter and correlated the position to a collision report provided by the Federal Aviation Administration. The Alaska National Guard arrived on the scene to treat the passengers.
  • On September 14, two people on a hike in Kukuihaele, Hawaii, fell into a ravine and were disabled. The USGC detected the distress signal from their PLB and alerted the Hawaii County Fire Department. The department dispatched a helicopter, which airlifted the hikers to a nearby hospital.  

A graphic showing three categories of satellite-assisted rescues that took place in 2023: Of the 350 lives saved, 255 people were rescued at sea, 44 were rescued from aviation incidents and 51 were rescued from incidents on land.

“With each life saved, the SARSAT program proves its worth,” said Steve Volz, Ph.D., assistant administrator for NOAA’s Satellite and Information Service. “NOAA’s partnerships with the U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Air Force, NASA, and others around the world are the foundation of SARSAT’s long success.”

By law, 406MHz beacon owners are required to register their devices online with NOAA. Registration information helps provide better and faster assistance to people in distress, reduces false alarms, and may also indicate what type of help is needed.

Click here to learn more about NOAA's Cospas-Sarsat System.

Publisher: SatNow
Tags:-  SatelliteLaunchGround

GNSS Constellations - A list of all GNSS satellites by constellations


Satellite NameOrbit Date
BeiDou-3 G4Geostationary Orbit (GEO)17 May, 2023
BeiDou-3 G2Geostationary Orbit (GEO)09 Mar, 2020
Compass-IGSO7Inclined Geosynchronous Orbit (IGSO)09 Feb, 2020
BeiDou-3 M19Medium Earth Orbit (MEO)16 Dec, 2019
BeiDou-3 M20Medium Earth Orbit (MEO)16 Dec, 2019
BeiDou-3 M21Medium Earth Orbit (MEO)23 Nov, 2019
BeiDou-3 M22Medium Earth Orbit (MEO)23 Nov, 2019
BeiDou-3 I3Inclined Geosynchronous Orbit (IGSO)04 Nov, 2019
BeiDou-3 M23Medium Earth Orbit (MEO)22 Sep, 2019
BeiDou-3 M24Medium Earth Orbit (MEO)22 Sep, 2019


Satellite NameOrbit Date
GSAT0223MEO - Near-Circular05 Dec, 2021
GSAT0224MEO - Near-Circular05 Dec, 2021
GSAT0219MEO - Near-Circular25 Jul, 2018
GSAT0220MEO - Near-Circular25 Jul, 2018
GSAT0221MEO - Near-Circular25 Jul, 2018
GSAT0222MEO - Near-Circular25 Jul, 2018
GSAT0215MEO - Near-Circular12 Dec, 2017
GSAT0216MEO - Near-Circular12 Dec, 2017
GSAT0217MEO - Near-Circular12 Dec, 2017
GSAT0218MEO - Near-Circular12 Dec, 2017


Satellite NameOrbit Date
Kosmos 2569--07 Aug, 2023
Kosmos 2564--28 Nov, 2022
Kosmos 2559--10 Oct, 2022
Kosmos 2557--07 Jul, 2022
Kosmos 2547--25 Oct, 2020
Kosmos 2545--16 Mar, 2020
Kosmos 2544--11 Dec, 2019
Kosmos 2534--27 May, 2019
Kosmos 2529--03 Nov, 2018
Kosmos 2527--16 Jun, 2018


Satellite NameOrbit Date
Navstar 82Medium Earth Orbit19 Jan, 2023
Navstar 81Medium Earth Orbit17 Jun, 2021
Navstar 78Medium Earth Orbit22 Aug, 2019
Navstar 77Medium Earth Orbit23 Dec, 2018
Navstar 76Medium Earth Orbit05 Feb, 2016
Navstar 75Medium Earth Orbit31 Oct, 2015
Navstar 74Medium Earth Orbit15 Jul, 2015
Navstar 73Medium Earth Orbit25 Mar, 2015
Navstar 72Medium Earth Orbit29 Oct, 2014
Navstar 71Medium Earth Orbit02 Aug, 2014


Satellite NameOrbit Date
NVS-01Geostationary Orbit (GEO)29 May, 2023
IRNSS-1IInclined Geosynchronous Orbit (IGSO)12 Apr, 2018
IRNSS-1HSub Geosynchronous Transfer Orbit (Sub-GTO)31 Aug, 2017
IRNSS-1GGeostationary Orbit (GEO)28 Apr, 2016
IRNSS-1FGeostationary Orbit (GEO)10 Mar, 2016
IRNSS-1EGeosynchronous Orbit (IGSO)20 Jan, 2016
IRNSS-1DInclined Geosynchronous Orbit (IGSO)28 Mar, 2015
IRNSS-1CGeostationary Orbit (GEO)16 Oct, 2014
IRNSS-1BInclined Geosynchronous Orbit (IGSO)04 Apr, 2014
IRNSS-1AInclined Geosynchronous Orbit (IGSO)01 Jul, 2013