Lockheed lands $915 million to begin space fence work

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Credit: Lockheed Martin

Lockheed Martin has won the Air Force contract to begin building the new Space Fence that will track and detect space objects which can consist of thousands of pieces of space debris as well as commercial and military satellite parts.  Approximately 19,000 objects larger than 10 cm are known to exist, according to NASA. 

The new space fence will use multiple S-band ground-based radars -- the exact number will depend on operational performance and design considerations -- that will permit detection, tracking and accurate measurement of orbiting space objects. 

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The idea is that the Space Fence is going to be the most precise radar in the space situational surveillance network and the S-band capability will provide the highest accuracy in detecting even the smallest space objects, the Air Force stated.  The Fence will have greater sensitivity, allowing it to detect, track and measure an object the size of a softball orbiting more than 1,200 miles in space. Because it is what the Air Force calls a "an uncued tracking system," it will provide evidence of satellite break-ups, collisions or unexpected maneuvers of satellites, the Air Force said.

 The space fence program, which could ultimately cost more than $3.5 billion, will be made up of a system of geographically dispersed ground-based sensors to provide timely assessment of space events.

 Lockheed Martin reported earlier this year that the prototype system it is developing to track all manner of space debris is now tracking actual orbiting space objects. Raytheon was also part of the Space Fence competition.

Under the contract, Lockheed will start construction of the first S-band radar in the Marshall Islands, located in the Pacific Ocean. The radars are planned to be located at strategic sites globally to expand surveillance coverage.

The system replaces the

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Air Force Space Surveillance System which was shut down last year. That VHS-based system of radars and transmitters watched space for incoming objects since 1961.

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