Coast Guard Looks to Space for Maritime Awareness

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Coast Guard announced today its intention to explore increased use of space as a tool to enhance awareness of activities in ports, coastal waters and their approaches.

“The Coast Guard has been using space systems for communications, navigation and weather since they first became available, but our use of space may increase considerably in the next few years,” said Dana Goward, director of the Coast Guard’s maritime domain awareness program. “There is great potential for civil space, and the Coast Guard is strongly considering increasing our involvement in space as a tool to assist us in our many missions.”

The Coast Guard has been studying the feasibility of receiving maritime automatic identification system (AIS) signals from space since 2001. In May 2004 the Coast Guard contracted with ORBCOMM, a satellite data communications company, to develop and build the capability to receive process and forward AIS signals from space via an AIS receiver onboard a communications satellite. In addition, ORBCOMM will provide the ground systems capable of processing the AIS signals and relaying the collected messages to the Coast Guard.

“This line of sight system was originally designed as a collision avoidance tool, but Coast Guard engineers and scientists quickly realized that significant ship tracking capabilities could be accomplished far out to sea if a receiver were placed on a spacecraft,” said Goward.

Studies conducted at Johns Hopkins University in 2003 indicated this concept was feasible, but it was not proven until a Dec. 16, 2006, launch by the Department of Defense of the TACSAT-2 satellite, which was equipped with an automatic identification receiver.

The Coast Guard’s ORBCOMM satellite is scheduled to launch in the second quarter of 2007, and ORBCOMM has announced plans to include automatic identification system receivers in future communications satellites.

In another effort, the University of Miami’s Center for Southeastern Tropical Advanced Remote Sensing, using a concept of operations developed by the Coast Guard, led a successful multi-organization experiment in late Sept. 2006 to develop and refine maritime domain awareness concepts and capabilities. Using seven civilian satellites, the Center was able to detect and track vessels transiting from the eastern Mediterranean to the coast of the United States.

“We are committed to achieving our mandate to attain maritime domain awareness, and initial results from each of these efforts to harness the potential of space have been very encouraging,” said Goward.

Source: USCG Headquarters Press Release

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