Lockheed: Prototype Space Fence tracking orbital debris

Lockheed martin says its prototype S-Band Space Fence is working

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Lockheed Martin says the prototype system it is developing to track all manner of space debris  is now tracking actual orbiting space objects.

The Space Fence prototype includes new ground-based radars and other technologies to enhance the way the US detects, tracks, measures and catalogs orbiting objects and space debris with improved accuracy, better timeliness and increased surveillance coverage.

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Lockheed Martin's prototype radar recently met a key contract requirement during a series of demonstration events by proving it could detect these resident space objects, as they are referred to by the Air Force, the company stated.  On February 29, the Air Force granted its approval of Lockheed Martin's preliminary design for the system, the company stated.

The S-Band Space Fence is part of the Department of Defense's effort to 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.

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The Space Fence will replace the current VHF Air Force Space Surveillance System built in 1961.  With more than 60 nations operating in space today, the final frontier is much more complex than when the AFSSS first started tracking a few hundred orbiting objects. Today, with hundreds of thousands of objects orbiting the earth, space debris and risk of potential collisions now threaten national space assets providing critical services, including the Global Positioning System, banking and telecommunications, Lockheed stated.

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

The Air Force could to award a final Space Fence production contract in 2012. Lockheed, Raytheon and others are involved in that process.  The first of several Space Fence sites is expected to reach initial operational capability in 2017.

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