NASA to assess in-flight communications for US air marshals

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NASA is to assist US law enforcement authorities in assessing mobile communications technology on board passenger aircraft for possible use within the federal air marshals programme.

NASA's Glenn Research Centre in Cleveland is seeking detailed information about wireless communications services - both for in-cabin and air-ground transmissions - which will shortly be available to US airlines or their passengers.

It intends to use the data to assess the potential and readiness of such technology to support operations by federal air marshals. The air marshals programme, which gained prominence after the September 2001 hijacks, provides security personnel for on-board protection of regular passenger flights.

"In general, federal air marshals on duty need to be able to communicate with other [marshals] and, potentially, crew members and other law enforcement officers on board the aircraft - as well as with [marshals] in ground-based mission operations control centres," says the NASA information request.

It states that communications primarily take the form of messages and digital data exchange, but adds that voice capability is necessary for some aspects of marshals' operations.

NASA says that companies who respond to the request and are subsequently selected for further private discussions will be given details on specific desired requirements for data-transmission rates, acceptable latency and other related information.

The agency says that the assessment will contribute to planning for a public-private partnership aimed at taking advantage of current technology and service provision.