Iridium Satellite Emergency Communicators

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Iridium Satellite Emergency Communicators

Postby sd » Fri Jul 03, 2015 10:16 am

After the wilderness scare from my flight a few weeks ago,
I was motivated to put the Delorme inReach in service, so I spent a day or two fiddle farting around with the inReach and now have it activated, tested and ready for my next flight. I’ll post a link to my "MapShare" page [] in my preflight announcements with the intent of flying with the inReach transmitting my location on most flights.

I did do some comparison research between the Spot LLC products [] and the Delorme inReach []. / posted on 7/3 and Updated 7/6 and again on 7/15/2015

The Spot subscription service is slightly less expensive, but as an emergency device the inReach’s ability to do 2 way SMS (Text] messaging (with some clunky limitations and requirments) seems to make it more versatile. The inReach user interface is a bit clunky, but I suspect the Spot Tracker might be also.

The Spot Satellite Phone seems more intuitive for communication, but you would still want a tracker, so if you only carry one device for emergencies, then the inReach Communicator seems like a better fit for our activity. If you are willing to carry two devices, a Tracker and a Satellite Phone, then the Spot Gen3 Tracker coupled with their Satellite Phone should provide optimal communication capability with minimal hardware weighing less than 12 ounces, but I don’t fly enough to justify the additional cost of a Satellite Phone Service Subscription.

The Satellite Phone Service isn’t actually that expensive. You can get 500 minutes for about $500 a year (with a dollar/min overage), but that’s additional to the Satellite Tracking which is less than half the cost of the phone service. For my current activity, I now consider a Tracker and Emergency Communicator essential. For pilots like Dave Turner or Aaron LaPlante, I suspect the Satellite Phone Service would be cost effective but perhaps not essential.

If you do opt to pay for Satellite Phone Service, then it makes sense to subscribe to the Spot Gen3 Tracker rather than the Delorme inReach Communicator for your tracking functionality because the phone will provide the inReach's communication functionality and the more limited Spot Tracker subscription is less expensive than the Delorme inReach subscription. The upfront purchase price for a Spot Gen3 Tracker is also substantially less than a Delorme inReach.

Another reason you want to carry a tracker even if you carry a Satellite Phone has to do with battery management. A phone is going to be either on or off while a tracker will maximize battery life with short transmission burst at configurable intervals. In an emergency, the tracker will show where you are (or recently were if you crash in tree covered crevice) even if you are hurt and can't sent out an SOS. With the phone you will need to turn it on in a suitable location to actively request assistance.

As noted earlier, the inReach user interface is slow and clunky, so for communication during a rescue or a complicated retrieval, a voice connection is much simpler than entering a text message without a keypad. I do need to note that you can pair your inReach with your smart phone to improve the user interface, but then you are relying on your cell phone battery which could be an issue during a lengthy rescue from deep in the wilderness where helicopter operation is prohibited.

Also note some clunky SMS [text] message limitation. Messages to an inReach device can't be sent directly from a cell phone messaging app. Message have to be sent from a Delorme web page, so a cell phone or email recipient will need web access to send or reply. A message recipient will receive a link in their text message that will direct them to a "Location" web page. The Location web page has a link permitting the recipient to reply. Messages can also be sent to an inReach via the users "MapShare" web page (which is different than a message "Location" page) if the service subscriber has their MapShare Send Message functionality enabled. Subscribers may opt to disable their MapShare Send Message Link because there is a fifty cent overage charge for messages on the low dollar subscription plans. Personally, I'll likely disable the MapShare message link when not flying, but then enable the function on days that I fly? Even if a subscriber has their MapShare web page Send Message Link disabled, "Message Recipients" can still reply to messages via the "Location" link in their received text message.

Message can be sent directly from one inReach to another inReach device without the need for an internet connection.

I'd strongly recommend that XC chase vehicles have an inReach communicator so the support crew can receive text messages when out of cell phone range. Perhaps the SBSA could pay for a few subscriptions and members could check out the units for the various chase crews? As more pilots begin to fly with the communicators, it will enhance the capability of support and retrieval.

I currently subscrib to the least expensive annual Delorme service plan, $12/month plus $0.60 per hour (10 cents per tracing point at 1 point every 10 minutes). Since I don’t fly often, it’s better for me to pay a few dollars per day when I actually use it compared to Delorme’s $25 a month plan with no hourly charge. For someone who flies frequently, I’d recommend the $25 a month plan with unlimited tracking.

I have the slightly more expensive Delorme inReach Explorer model (orange trim), but FYI, I’d recommend the less expensive inReach SE model (yellow trim). The Explorer model adds mapping capability, but on a tiny screen, the mapping functionality is almost worthless and just makes a clunky interface more complicated. If you want mapping, then I’d recommend a bigger screen via a GPS app with 3D map data on your smart phone (plus a spare battery) / (I only have a flip phone, but do intend to upgrade my capability soon?). I'll also need to carry reading glasses because there is no way us old guys can read the tinny tiny font size on the small inReach screen without magnifiers.

The primary functionality of an inReach is rough tracking and emergency or retrieval communication. Delorme touts additional functionality for market differentiation, but I wouldn't recommend using the inReach for fringe functions. Radio use for continuous Bluetooth pairing and frequent data logging intervals will eat more battery and compromise the primary capability. The 10 minute tracking interval is ok for a general overview of our location, but you will want a 1 to 5 second tracking interval for your log and post flight analyses (I currently use a 2 second logging interval configured on my Flytec 6020). The Explorer model does have some crude mapping capability, but if you want maps, use a more capable device. The GPS part is pretty common, included with our phones, varios, and camera's, so carry the inReach as an emergency and retrieval device to maximize its battery life and emergency capability. Carry other devices for mapping and logging functionality.

You can read about the satellite constellation at
The iridium satellite network has 66 satellites orbiting in 6 (almost) polar orbits with 11 satellites per orbital plane. Since the satellites traveling at 17000 MPH take about 100 minutes to circle the earth, the spacing between satellites in each orbital plane is about 10 minutes. 6 orbital planes equates to a 30 degree spacing between planes (180/6). When viewed from the center of the orbits, there should be a satellite within a maximum of 15 degrees of vertical when looking both east and west (at the equator), but we aren't viewing from the orbital center. The earth's radius is almost 4000 miles and the satellites are in low earth orbit (465 miles above the surface), so over flat terrain on the surface, in a worst case scenario (at the equator) when you have a view both east and west there should be a satellite within 63 degrees of straight up (or 27 degrees above the horizon), however, if one side is obstructed (canyon wall?), then a worst case scenario deteriorates to 76 degrees, or 14 degrees above the horizon east or west. Due to their polar orbits, each satellite plane will rotate from east to west as the earth rotates under them. The rotation rate is 15 degrees per hour when viewed from the earth's center, so if you are equidistance between satellite planes, the highest angle possible, then a satellite will be directly overhead in about an hour. Bottom line is that there are situations in deep canyons where you may not be able to communicate with a satellite, but if you have some view of the sky, then there should be a satellite within line of sight soon (an hour at the very most). The Delorme inReach does indicate whether or not an outgoing message was successfully sent.

Thanks to Rob, Peter, Chris and others for their support and guidance.

PS: I passed on our recent monsoon activity this past week (end of June) because it had too much east in it to get on course from our local launches, but there might have been some opportunities along better lines launching from sites further east.
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Re: Iridium Satellite Emergency Communicators

Postby gracecab » Fri Mar 10, 2017 5:43 pm

After using the InReach by Delorme, I am enjoying the simplicity of it, reliability, and long battery life.

There is plenty of programmability, I have added a Facebook posting step, and It seems prudent to carry one when I'm flying.

Its even light compared to my other electronic gadgets I carry so I don't feel too bad with the even more extra weight.

Its just good to have the mental insurance in case I tank and can push the SOS button, OR just email someone who I need to.

I only don't like that I do have to manually send the message: I've landed safely. Since I've forgotten and scared my folks who were watching my flight (they are retired). Other than that it's a great product.

I believe with the purchase of Delorme by GPG mega giant GARMIN, the upgrades will be even better.. possible we can start using ONE device for tracking using the Satellite, AND use GPS to get flight logs... best of both worlds...
Chris Ballmer aka gracecab
Ventura, CA
UP Kantega XC2 / Gin Verso
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