An unprecedented international effort is under way from space to track the missing Malaysia passenger jet as satellite operators, government agencies and rival nations sweep their gaze across two oceans in search of elusive debris or data.

Six days after the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 went missing with 239 people on board, the search has widened to the Andaman Sea, northwest of the Malay Peninsula, with only one precious clue - an ephemeral 'ping' detected five or six times after the plane lost contact - picked up in orbit.

Disaster relief agencies and governments are co-operating across political divides, and in the absence of a formal probe are finding informal ways to share information, including via China's weather agency, a person involved in the search said.

"I haven't seen this sort of level of involvement of satellites in accident investigation before," said Matthew Greaves, head of the Safety and Accident Investigation Centre at Cranfield University in Bedford, England. "It is only going to get more important until they find some wreckage."

Several governments are using imagery satellites - platforms that take high definition photos - while data from private sector communications satellites is also being examined.

China alone says it has deployed 10 satellites in the search in a pointed reminder of its growing influence in space. The United States is using all the capabilities that have a view of the area in question, including very high-resolution electro-optical satellites that can identify a car's license plate from space, US government officials said.

"There are a lot of satellites looking at that area of the world," said one source familiar with the network of US national security satellites.


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