The International Cospas-Sarsat Programme (the Programme) is an intergovernmental organisation established in 1988 under the International Cospas-Sarsat Programme Agreement (the Agreement) signed by Canada, France, the former USSR, and the USA. The Russian Federation replaced the USSR as Party to the Agreement in January 1992.
Including the four Parties to the Agreement, 41 States and 2 organisations (the Participants) are now currently formally associated with the Programme and actively participate in the management and the operation of the Cospas-Sarsat System (the System).
The mission of the Programme is to provide accurate, timely and reliable distress alert and location data to help Search and Rescue (SAR) authorities assist persons in distress. The objective of the Cospas-Sarsat System is to reduce, as far as possible, delays in the provision of distress alerts to SAR services, and the time required to locate a person in distress at sea or on land and provide assistance to that person, all of which have a direct impact on the probability of survival. To achieve this objective, Cospas-Sarsat Participants implement, maintain, co-ordinate and operate a satellite system capable of detecting distress alert transmissions from radio beacons that comply with Cospas-Sarsat specifications and performance standards, and of determining their position anywhere on the globe. The distress alert and location data is provided by Cospas-Sarsat Participants to the responsible SAR services.
The System is available to maritime and aviation users and to persons in distress situations. Access is provided to all States on a non-discriminatory basis, and is free of charge for the end-user in distress. On average, about 5 persons are rescued every day with the assistance of Cospas-Sarsat alert and location data.
The System is composed of:
- distress beacons operating at 406 MHz;
- SAR payloads on satellites in low-altitude Earth orbit and in geostationary orbit;
- ground receiving stations spread around the world; and
- a network of Mission Control Centres (MCCs) to distribute distress alert and location information to SAR authorities, worldwide.