Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Civilian Earth Observation Satellites for Global Maritime Awareness-Effective? Affordable?

Excerpt from U.S. Coast Guard Proceedings of the Marine Safety & Security Council magazine by Mr. Guy Thomas, Science and Technology Advisor, U.S. Coast Guard.

Civilian earth observations satellites have been operating since the mid-1980s and are expanding in number and capability. Many of these systems have significant ocean surveillance capabilities, which--if bundled together and used intelligently--could provide the maritime nations of the world with a much better picture of who is sailing the seas, and provide indications of their intentions.

However, no one is planning to take advantage of these systems for the global maritime awareness they could provide if operated collaboratively.

Earth Surveillance Satellites
The numbers and capabilities of both electro-optical and/or infrared (EO/IR) imaging systems and synthetic aperture radar satellites (SARSats) with oceanic surveillance capabilities are projected to grow substantially in the coming years. In addition, in the last two years almost a dozen different satellites have been launched with Automatic Identification System (AIS) receivers, and an AIS receiver has been installed on the International Space Station. Some of these are now in direct support of at least two different SAR satellites.

Indeed, it is the coupling of AIS via space with radar satellites, which can "see" in darkness and look through most cloud cover, and the new, higher-resolution imaging satellites that makes the concept known as "Collaboration in Space for International Global Maritime Awareness," or C-SIGMA, feasible. These new civilian space systems are not seen as replacing any existing terrestrial systems, but as a means to make those sorts of broad ocean surveillance systems more effective.

A Look Ahead
To achieve maritime domain awareness goals, satellites could be used to openly survey the world's oceans to establish normal patterns of behavior for shipping and boating worldwide. Other sources and methods would need to be employed to gain further information, but the basic data would be provided by the envisioned, unclassified system.

A civilian-based space broad ocean surveillance system such as the proposed C-SIGMA concept could provide the necessary surveillance for first-level indications as to whether a vessel was engaged in actions such as illegal fishing, environmentally harmful practices, smuggling, or just operating in a manner such that a closer examination might be warranted. Indeed, projects are underway to develop anomaly detection algorithms.

C-SIGMA is not a silver bullet, but it would be a huge help in establishing the envisioned transparency for all maritime nations. The dawn of unclassified open ocean surveillance has already occurred, and while these systems do not replace the national classified systems, their data can be shared with the many nations of the world.

For more information:
Full article is available at http://www.uscg.mil/proceedings/summer2010.

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