SASISA FS - Small Aircraft Service for Instant Situational Awareness

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The SASISA Feasibility Study assessed and validated a new service that enables emergency and disaster relief organisations to exploit overhead remote sensing during the most critical initial response phase for improved situational awareness. Current practice still treats aerial surveillance of disasters as a non-real-time activity, with results often only available days later. The combination of satellite and terrestrial technologies in the modular system architecture of the SASISA service offers transformational change for the benefit of improved emergency response, while at the same time complying with established operational modes and financial limitations of civil public sector user agencies.

Objectives of the service

SASISA - Small Aircraft ExampleSASISA aims at proving the concept of a reliable, low-cost, real-time disaster-surveillance service for first responders and other civil security-sector users that combines a variety of existing space and terrestrial technologies in a new modular approach and permits a much higher performance/price ratio and more flexibility in fast, effective emergency response than current operational approaches. This new capacity to be validated by SASISA has been identified by users as a required enabler for the safety and security performance that is expected by European citizens. However, it has not yet been brought within practical operational reach of users in the civil security sector. SASISA is to prepare the ground for a versatile, commercially viable new service that satisfies these operational requirements in Europe and potentially also beyond.

With active involvement of stakeholder and users, the feasibility study is to investigate, analyse and define the best feasible implementation of the service, prove the concept in collaboration with the users and prepare the ground for a viable business case to sustain the system and its associated services.

Users and their needs

SASISA is shaped by requirements suggested by institutional users who are in charge of preventing and reacting to disasters such as floods, earthquakes, landslides and industrial accidents as well as for search and rescue operations, including in the mountains and at sea. The service can also be used for routine monitoring purposes, e.g. critical infrastructure and border surveillance. SASISA is primarily targeted at public-sector civil security user communities world-wide, including international organisations dealing with humanitarian and disaster response and development issues.

The service can be expected to also be attractive to commercial users such as pipeline operators. In the current phase of the activity, two Austrian government agencies are directly involved as participating end users: the Fire Service and Civil Protection Department of Lower Austria and the Department for Civil Protection and National Defence of Styria. Each of them operates a state-wide alarm centre that also has the task to coordinate and/or direct emergency response operations based on an integrated situational picture.

The project originates in user needs that have been identified in a previous national research project in Austria (PUKIN). The participating users recognised the high value of an operational capability to feed high-resolution monitoring data from aircraft into the situational awareness support systems at remote operations command centres without delay, particularly in time-critical emergency situations.

Better situational awareness permits faster action and thus helps to prevent and limit damage to life, infrastructure and property. From a user perspective, this advantage can be secured more reliably and effectively by including a high-bandwidth satellite communications data downlink that permits operation without having to set up a terrestrial radio link on the ground in advance. Such terrestrial line-of-sight communication is not always available when it is needed, for example in severe emergencies that make the ground inaccessible or when terrestrial infrastructure has been destroyed (like in Haiti in January 2010).

Service/ system concept

User agencies gain valuable new operational capacity for strengthening the safety and security of citizens in disaster and emergency situations. The key feature is that the new service can feed collected data instantly and directly into the users command and control processes and thus provide them with otherwise unavailable, operationally crucial situational information in near-real time during emergency operations.

Up to now, the results of airborne surveillance can only be accessed by users days or weeks after collection and thus lack immediate operational relevance in most emergency situations. Through the service's integrated combination of satellite-enabled instant airborne monitoring with complementary satellite imagery that typically becomes available after a day or more, the advantages of space technology can be fully exploited for emergency response.

Space Added Value

The integration of up-to-date commercial space technologies in the SASISA service offers improved flexibility, efficiency and reliability. In emergency situations, satellite communication permits transmission of near-real time imagery and other remote sensing data from aircraft to emergency responders and decision-makers on the ground even when the terrestrial communications network infrastructure is destroyed and  the emergency area inaccessible for quick setup of local line-of-sight radio links.

Satellite communication also provides increased flexibility for operations in international disaster assistance scenarios. Satellite navigation is indispensible for precise geo-referencing of airborne sensor data and their effective use as an operational source of mapping information and situational awareness during an emergency. Remote sensing from space provides essential additional information in combination with in situ airborne remote sensing.

Product Benefits

The new service that is to be designed and validated in the SASISA project opens new opportunities in several ways: User agencies gain valuable new operational capacity for strengthening the safety and security of citizens in disaster and emergency situations. Airborne service operators gain a new market that is likely to transcend traditional national limitations. Likewise, manufacturers of small special aircraft and related payloads can benefit from the creation of a new market.

The service is not necessarily limited to Europe. It is able to generate opportunities for export as well as increased international cooperation in the safety and security sector. SASISA provides a particularly strong case for the operational value of space technologies in a sector where their use is still largely non-existent. By establishing the case for a service that builds on satellite technology for the benefit of civil public safety and security, SASISA helps to reap the fruits of years of public investment in space-sector developments.

Product Features

SASISA promotes an integrated real-time disaster surveillance service for first-responders that has now become possible by combining existing elements (including affordable small aircraft, commercial off the shelf digital remote sensing instruments and satellite communications system components selected for optimal price and performance). The new service feeds situational awareness information instantly and directly into the user's command and control process during emergency operations using high-bandwidth satellite communications data links that permit operation when line-of-sight radio communication is not possible.

The service incorporates three space technologies (communication, navigation and remote sensing) in combination with terrestrial technologies, including small special aircraft with commercial off-the-shelf sensors. The use of small multi-purpose aircraft permits innovative public/private business models that reduce capital and operating costs so that real-time airborne situational awareness can become a standard component of emergency management.

The following illustration shows a typical scenario for use of the proposed integrated system. A fire is reported somewhere away from the emergency centre. The aircraft with the sensors (infrared camera, high-resolution optical camera) is sent to the area of interest and in real time transmits back high-quality sensor data via a broadband satellite link to the emergency centre. The operations manager at the emergency centre can then take the appropriate action to direct response forces in the most effective way to cope with the emergency situation. He can also redirect the plane to focus on specific aspects of the emergency situation. This is possible because the plane is bi-directionally connected to the emergency centre.
SASISA - System of Systems


Key Issues

Instant situational awareness in emergencies using small aircraft will remain unavailable to civil security agencies unless a service model is created that does not require each user agency to own and operate their own aircraft. A Europe-wide approach offers particular advantages. However, the stakeholder communities in this sector need to be convinced that such an approach is viable.

In order to make satellite communications accessible to civil security agencies as an operational tool in this context, related capital and operational expenditure must become much more affordable. SASISA is to show that Ku and Ka band solutions have come into reach that make this possible.

Current Status

In the first two project phases, a productive, durable framework of interaction was established between the participating users and the project consortium. Input from the participating users confirmed the user need for SASISA as a tool for gaining currently unavailable situational awareness information in disaster response operations.

The Mid Term Review Meeting took place in Graz (Austria) in May 2012 with participation of users and national delegates.

The second half of the Feasibility Study project was dedicated to proving the feasibility of the most challenging technical aspects:

  1. Integrating the Ku band terminal in the small aircraft to provide significant bandwidth improvements over other existing solutions that rely on L band technology,
  2. Implementing the onboard image processing chain that enables delivery of various kinds of digital geoinformation products to users in near real time before the aircraft returns to base.

In addition, a viable business concept for the service was developed in cooperation with the aircraft operator and airborne sensing provider Diamond Executive Aviation (DEA) as a new commercial partner for the subsequent SASISA Demonstration Project and service rollout. The project led to a roadmap toward launching the new service after a two-year integration and demonstration effort, with the plan to demonstrate the utilisation of the SASISA service in three typical natural disaster scenarios with users.

The Final Review Meeting and the Final Presentation were held on 21 March 2013 at ESTEC. The enlarged SASISA consortium led by Knowledge & Analysis LLP with subcontractors in five European countries submitted its full proposal for an IAP Demonstration Project in November 2012. The SASISA Demonstration Project was approved by ESA and began on 21 March 2013.

Status Date

Updated: 13 June 2013 - Created: 15 February 2014