Space fence contract awarded

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The Air Force awarded a $914,699,474 contract to Lockheed Martin on June 2, 2014 to develop a system that will track objects in Earth's orbit with far greater confidence and fidelity.

The contract brings the program to final system development with the delivery of Space Fence Increment 1, or site 1, radar and a Space Fence operations center. The projected initial operational capability is fiscal year 2019. The contract also includes an option for procuring a second radar site.

The system will track space objects in Earth's orbit. According to program officials, it will improve space situational awareness by detecting and tracking objects such as commercial and military satellites and debris from break-up events. Coverage will extend down to just above the horizon to handle low-inclination orbits.

"Previously, the Air Force could only track and identify items the size of a basketball," said Dana Whalley, the Space Fence program manager, who is stationed at Hanscom AFB, Mass. "With the new system, we'll be able to identify items down to the size of a softball. This will significantly increase our capability to provide predictive and actionable space situational awareness for the nation."

Space Fence will provide the capability for dedicated uncued surveillance of small objects in low-earth orbit with useful capability in the higher orbit regimes. Uncued detection provides a continuous "curtain" of radar pulses forming a "Fence" that enables detection, tracking and determination of objects' orbits without prior knowledge of their existence or location. This will allow for more timely detections, higher cataloguing accuracy and completeness and will augment launch coverage and aid object characterization. Space Fence will work in conjunction with the Joint Space Operations Center, or JSpOC, to provide an integrated picture of the space operating environment for the warfighter.

"The program will provide knowledge of objects, debris and events that will help us to maintain U.S. and allied space capabilities, protect space assets and prevent potential collisions in near-Earth orbit," Whalley said.

Originally, three contracts were awarded in June 2009 for initial prototyping and risk reduction of the Space Fence system. In the second quarter of 2011, a second full and open competition was held for final preliminary designs and prototyping. That contract was awarded to two offerors: Raytheon and Lockheed Martin. As part of that, two preliminary design reviews for the program were completed with final events demonstrating working radar prototypes capable of detecting and tracking a resident space object.

"This risk reduction acquisition approach was the best way to ensure the technology was at the appropriate maturation level prior to entering the EMD phase," said Whalley.

Space Fence is designed to provide assured coverage at low Earth orbit for objects as small as 10 centimeters. The system will also support cued searches and uncued surveillance at medium Earth orbit and above. The increased Space Fence sensitivity, coupled with the increased computing capabilities of the JSpOC Mission System, will yield a greater understanding of the space operating environment and associated threats.

"By providing a better picture of the space operating environment, Space Fence will greatly improve the Air Force's ability to see and understand that battlespace," said Whalley.

The Air Force Space Command's Space and Missile Systems Center, located at Los Angeles Air Force Base, Calif., is the U.S. Air Force's center of acquisition excellence for acquiring and developing military space systems. Its portfolio includes the Global Positioning System, military satellite communications, defense meteorological satellites, space launch and range systems, satellite control networks, space based infrared systems and space situational awareness capabilities.

(Courtesy of the Space and Missile Systems Center office of public affairs)