This PhD project is closely aligned with SmartSat’s I-in-the-Sky Capability Demonstrator and based on results from SmartSat project, Resilient Emergency Search and Rescue (SAR) Communications, Phase 1 and 2 (P1.07/P1.26). The aim of the project will be to integrate the waveform developed into a user terminal that can be suitable for homes and emergency services.
The project is concerned with the technical feasibility of providing robust satellite-based messaging connectivity with potential to scale across thousands of users with compromised or threatened network access. Beacon devices must be low cost and low power, suitable for long life operation on a battery pack. It is exclusively for use during a communications blackout or other emergency. It will support an emergency beacon function and allow a user to send pre-canned messages and, where enabled, text messages, using a mobile phone app tethered to the beacon device. The same beacon device will monitor an outbound broadcast channel, only decoding messages within
the addressed group, which will be defined by geographical area or other metrics. This will forward notifications and messages to the user app on a mobile phone.
Important aspects of the research will be to demonstrate scalability in terms of number of potential users operating within a power and bandwidth limited radio channel and to illustrate how users may interact with a remote operator, either human or a bot. It is envisioned that a medium access control algorithm will be matched against the offered data model and the satellite link characteristics. The focus will be on simple operating procedures suitable for an unskilled, novice user of the beacon, satellite link efficiency, and suitability for global, low latency LEO satellite constellations.
Provision of a real-time interactive service as a subscription free service for emergency purposes is unique and relies on breakthrough in terms of the capability of the satellite link with a very small form factor beacon. Technical challenges include maintenance of the quality of situational awareness data and robustness of critical reporting to support emergency service operations under highly degraded network conditions. During a compounding incident such as a wide area natural disaster, the increase in network traffic may approach capacity and this must be managed with minimal control overheads. Both text messaging and compact sensor data will be supported. In addition, a stretch goal will be to consider transmission of low rate encoded voice (subtoll quality) or even imagery. An experimental demonstration system will be tested over a live satellite with
the existing UniSA ground station terminating the link at the operator end.
This project is undertaken with two end-users in mind – civil emergency services and Defence. The ability to locate and communicate with vulnerable individuals would enable more targeted use of resources in response to major emergency events such as floods as well as SAR activities. With a miniaturised wearable or easily deployable tactical beacon, capable of two-way messaging, the applications of this service align with the Defence Science and Technology Group’s Operating in contested Chemical Biological Radiation and Nuclear Threat Environments STaR Shot. While the small device MVP is under development, engagement with emergency services and other stakeholders will be underway to explore the adoption and facilitation of a wider uptake of this service.
Associate Professor Philip Branch, Swinburne University of Technology
Francis Kagai, Swinburne University of Technology