As chronicled in the “Pigs In Space” benchmark of last month, six decades of space travel have now littered Earth’s upper atmosphere with spent rocket boosters, dead satellites and hundreds of thousands of stray hardware pieces. Even space junk as small as 5 centimeters, not even the size of an egg, packs enough kinetic energy in high-velocity swarms to disable a satellite.
Last month’s news focused on University of Alabama in Huntsville ideas about rocket designs that might lessen future space junk at the source. This month brings the news that Lockheed Martin has landed a highly sought $914.6 million contract for the construction of the U.S. Air Force’s Space Fence.
The “fence, ” a high-frequency S-band, ground-based set of radar systems, will replace the existing Air Force Space Surveillance System, or VHF Fence, which has been in service since the early 1960s. The new system should begin going online in 2017, according to Lockheed Martin.
The new Space Fence radar will provide uncued detection, tracking and accurate measurement of space objects, primarily in low-earth orbit. The geographic separation and the higher wave frequency of the new fence will allow for the detection of much smaller microsatellites and debris than current systems. In addition, Lockheed Martin’s Space Fence design will significantly improve the timeliness with which operators can detect space events that could present potential threats to GPS satellites or the International Space Station. The Air Force currently tracks approximately 20, 000 space objects.
The Lockheed Martin-led team, which includes General Dynamics, AT&T and AMEC, has decades of collective experience in space-related programs including sensors, mission-processing, cataloging, orbital mechanics, net-centric communications and facilities. Lockheed Martin employs 850 people at its space systems facility in Huntsville.
Text by Dave Helms