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The SAPI&NS study aims to improve the effectiveness of Search And Rescue operations for civil and military operators (so-called dual use). With satellite communication and satellite navigation, the involved personnel and vehicles (esp. helicopters and boats) can be tracked and status information can be collected.

The solution is conceived to be used across different scenarios (air, ground, sea) and will next to tracking services also offer tools for management and coordination of operations.

Objectives of the service

The goal of the feasibility study is to build up a sustainable service solution that helps to overcome the current difficulties of Search and Rescue missions, that are often unpredictable in their nature and demands lots of communication between involved parties.

It will be studied how a satellite communication solution can be used to ensure operation in remote or damaged areas, in order to enable monitoring and control of the most significant mission parameters, improving response time, and the effectiveness of an intervention.

Similarly, the study will invest how satellite navigation combined with communications and cartography, can allow a complete tracking of personnel and assets, making commanders aware of the position, health status and actions of the personnel along the whole mission.

In addition, thanks to access to health status data, images and significant events of a mission. while tracking personnel and assets, response time and coordination should be improved together with the safety of the involved personnel.

The fact that the starting point for the concept is dual use with a common infrastructure, makes the service suitable to joint and combined operations, and should minimize the costs of infrastructure maintenance.


Users and their needs

The user groups for the SAPI&NS services are rescue organisations, both civil and military, like:

  1. Italian Fire Brigades:  involved in rescue operations e.g. in case of environmental disasters;
  2. Italian Coast Guard: involved in rescue operations in case of boat accidents or sea immigration emergencies (the Coast Guard is a corps of the Navy  carrying out tasks and functions related to the use of the sea for civilian purposes);
  3. Italian Mountain Rescue Organization (CNSAS): operating in mountain or remote areas, and strongly specialised in the search phase in case of missing person

In the frame of service requirements definition, the end users have been contacted to express their needs for Search and Rescue mission, starting from the analysis of current limits and problems:

The main needs are linked to

  • Tracking helicopters and have a clear picture of the best positioned helicopter at the time of an emergency call.
  • Tracking people and reconfigure assigned search areas in real time
  • Monitor the health of involved personnel.
  • Monitor health of rescued persons.
  • Acquiring images in the area of interest.
  • Using secure communications.

All those needs converge to the necessity to reduce the time of first intervention, thereby improving the effectiveness of a Search and Rescue mission.

Service/ system concept

The added value of SAPI&NS service is that it is based on a co-design activity with potential end users. There are three key feature segments that shall be achieved by the service design: 

Integration to give users the possibility to use in a single suite multiple functions:

  • Tracking helicopters and personnel
  • Images Management
  • Healthcare monitoring
  • Search area management
  • Cartography 

Portability to allow the same Hardware and Software to be used by different people or helicopters, 

Tailoring to design a custom solution in a common framework, in order to share service costs without losing customer specificity.

Space Added Value

Due to the unpredictability and hostility of most of the Search and Rescue operations, satellite communication link is required to be independent of ground infrastructure, have sufficient coverage and high reliability. 

Satellite navigation enables precision positioning of vehicles and personnel, ensuring also accuracy, integrity and continuity.

Product Benefits

Main benefits from SAPI&NS service are:

  • Improvement in operation coordination, reducing time for first intervention and reconfiguration of search area.
  • Improvement of the safety of the operation, obtained by remote monitoring of involved personnel
  • Efficiency in cooperation between military and civil corps; providing a common service to jointly manage search and rescue operations.

Product Features

In order to improve the effectiveness of Search &Rescue operations, in different contexts and scenarios, resources need to be deployed more efficient. This in turns implies that new services building on new technologies are needed. 

Following a study of the typical operational scenarios and the resulting user requirements, a high-level architecture has been derived and is depicted in the following figure. 


The overall system architecture is composed of the following segments:

  • A remote system located with a crew that aims at tracking people and/or vehicles and the most significant mission attributes (such as people health data)
  • A Satellite Communication Network to link the remote system with the “Interoperability Gateway” hosted by Vitrociset facilities.
  • A Terrestrial Communication Network: to link the “Interoperability Gateway”, hosted by Vitrociset facilities, with the target Control Centre (C2 System and/or Ground Control Station) hosted by End-User Facilities
  • The Service Provider Centre (Vitrociset Facilities). A central service provider operated by industry to ensure the following functionalities:
    • Network and data availability (satellite links and/or terrestrial links)
    • Service continuity
    • Interoperability and/or Segregation, managing confidentiality of data according to user requirements
    • Administration and configuration

A Ground Control station is used to gather direct and updated information about all users’ assets. Several cartographic formats can be used to view the current situation in the optimal context and obtain a complete control of the operations

Key Issues

Some key issues addressed in the SAPI&NS project are:

  • Communication availability (hybrid communications approach: use a Satellite Telecommunication channel when terrestrial coverage is not available);
  • Tracking capabilities for both personnel and assets;
  • The ability to measure personnel biomedical parameters to check their state of health;
  • Security capabilities to allow the access to the system only to authorized personnel;
  • The capability to send and receive other information that may be of help for the mission (C2, decision support, logistic information, images)
  • The capability to share and update the Search Area on the map

Current Status

Following the delivery to ESA of all the project documentation, the SAPI&NS Feasibility Study was concluded by the final review held at ESTEC, on 19 June 2015.


The SAPI&NS project led to the definition of a concept based on challenging user needs and requirements, design the associated architecture and it allowed the performance of a preliminary remote terminal test within a helicopter, in May 2015, with the goal to evaluate the telecommunication and navigation signals coverage. While this feasibility study has delivered some positive outcomes, a number of technical (e.g. accurate tracking of helicopters and data transmissions with helicopters) as well as economical (e.g. service profitability) aspects yet require additional investigations before allowing Vitrociset to move towards a demonstration project. 

Prime Contractor(s)

Status Date

Updated: 16 September 2015 - Created: 22 April 2014