Japan Earthquake: Orbiting ‘GPS Satellites’ To Aid Disaster Victims In The Heat Of Chaos [Report]

Japan is planning to ramp up its satellite-based GPS technology and use it to assist earthquake survivors communicate each other’s whereabouts in the ensuing aftermath of a disaster according to a report. In addition to facilitating ground communication in the event of a disaster-triggered system break-down, the satellites would serve as relaying stations equipped with the ability to connect individual devices with data systems of emergency command centers via text transmission.

The satellite fleet dubbed “Michibiki” is expected to be deployed in orbit in a series of launches starting as soon as next year and ready to function soon afterwards. In 2010, Japan launched the first of these planned series of satellites, “the Quasi-Zenith Satellite-1,” in an attempt to improve the existing accuracy of satellite navigation services on Japanese islands.

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Japan’s 2014 project overview of the implementation of the operational Quasi-Zenith Satellite System or QZSS project had outlined the following key objectives

“The Government of Japan has decided to accelerate the deployment of the operational QZSS as expeditiously as possible. Four satellites constellation shall be established by the 2018 JFY. In the future, seven satellites constellation shall be completed to enable sustainable positioning.”

The idea of space-based satellite-driven GPS communication gained rapid momentum in Japan following the catastrophic 2011 earthquake and Tsunami which obliterated ground systems and destroyed land-based communication networks. It has been reported that nearly 30,000 such ground facilities were blown away by the impact of the disaster.

According to a 2011 report which described the associated seismic damage to social infrastructure facilities, the devastation wrecked upon communications infrastructure was of grand proportions. Extensive damage was reported to have been caused to power supply devices as well as communication buildings particularly from the brutal onslaught of the tsunami which completely shattered all relaying facilities.

Furthermore, overhead residential cables were swept away along with electricity poles. According to the National Police Agency (NPA), six months after the earthquake, nearly 16,000 people had perished as a result of the earthquake, the tsunami, and subsequent tremors with over 4,000 people reported missing. The massive scale of this disaster had prompted Japan to look for answers in space.

By means of GPS satellites, direct transmission of text from individual smartphones to various emergency command centers would be achieved in the event of a completely collapsed ground-based communications infrastructure. Moreover, timely access to locations around disaster-afflicted zones would facilitate evacuations, mitigate many risks, as well as reduce the likelihood of human fatalities. Information from survivors requesting assistance will be instantly intercepted and relayed to rescue authorities via the satellites who would then be drawn into action immediately.

Japan Earthquake
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By definition, a satellite navigation system or “sat nav system” is an arrangement of satellites that determines geo-spatial positioning. These systems use a series of advanced satellites mounted in orbit around the planet. The Quasi-Zenith Satellite System in particular is designed to serve as a three-satellite regional system designed to transmit orbital information to receivers located within Japan. The system is specifically useful for mobile applications to communicate and provide positioning information.

According to Japan’s Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), this GPS-based position-mapping mechanism will allow users in general to communicate without having to experience external interference, owing to the technological prowess of these orbiting satellites. Not too long ago, Michibiki captured images of the Earth from space during an annular solar eclipse which was observed from many regions across Japan.

According to Japanese experts, during disaster situations, this series of new GPS satellites will also transmit warnings and evacuation advisories across remotely located communities in Japan in advance of the event.

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