SARFOS - Search And Rescue Forward Operation Support System

Status date

The purpose of SARFOS is to develop a forward emergency response coordination and communication system using a combination of latest technologies in the field of integrated satellite and terrestrial communication, navigation and information databases. In response to demand, the aim is to define, implement and finally demonstrate a prototype system designed especially for and in cooperation with key mountain rescue services.

The innovation of the SARFOS project is the ability to provide services in rural or remote areas without any terrestrial communication system coverage. Mobile satellite communication will be seamlessly integrated so the individual user won't have to bother with the availability and selection of individual communication links.

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The SARFOS project focused on the development of a forward emergency communication system. The innovation of the SARFOS project was to provide the services also in rural or remote areas without terrestrial communication system coverage.

Applications in an Alpine environment require ruggedized mobile units. This second key issue of SARFOS required the involvement of the user communities into the definition and demonstration phase to meet the requirements of the potential market.

The emphasis of the work in this project was put on the integration of the mobile unit and its interfaces. Software applications and user interfaces on both ends of the system were another key part.


Rescue personnel are not in the situation to bother with complicated technological tasks or to carry around ineffective tools. The support system, and especially the communications gear, has to be highly mobile, automated, ruggedized and easy to use.

  • a SARFOS mobile unit (SMU)
  • a Mission Control Centre (MCC)
  • a Field Operations Server (FOS)

The market opportunity for this project lies in the development and production of the system on the one hand and additionally in centralized operation and provision of the related services on behalf of local rescue organizations.


A solution to the communication coverage problem is the "Wireless Communication Router" (WICOR) that has been successfully demonstrated to ESA in a project carried out by the companies Oecon and Telematica. The demonstrated WICOR solution however, still requires a notebook computer and numerous cable connections on the user terminal side, thus being rather bulky and not ready for end user application.

With the SARFOS project, the user terminal, called SARFOS Mobile Unit (SMU), will  be sufficiently small, robust and easy to use for end user applications in a harsh environment. The development work is hence focused on the mobile user terminal, which will provide three key functionalities:

  • Automated exchange and visualization of field units positions,
  • Data collection in the field and immediate transmission to a centralized service application,
  • Navigation and coordination support to field units.



The SARFOS project will be carried out in three phases:

  • The first phase (definition phase) investigated software and hardware requirements based on the user requirements. This phase had 2 months duration.
  • The development phase (second phase) focused on the development of SMU, MCC and FOS and lasted 9 months.
  • Phase 3 (demonstration phase) consisted of the demonstration system validation by means of different campaigns and lasted 5 months.

Key milestones were:

Baseline Design Review March 1, 2005
Mid-Term Review December 6, 2005
Final Review May 18, 2006
Current status

The SARFOS project was successfully finished with the Final Review and the Final Presentation at ESTEC on May 18th 2006 and is now on the way to industralisation and further development.