A new ground-based radar built to detect and track tens of thousands of objects in space has entered a trial period, the Air Force’s Space and Missile Systems Center announced Dec. 10.
The move puts the system one step closer to being officially accepted by the Air Force for regular use.
Located on Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands, Space Fence will use advanced solid-state S-band radar technology to track objects smaller than 10 centimeters in low and medium earth orbit. With that increased capability, the new system will be able to closely follow space objects, maneuvers, launches and more.
With multiple mega-constellations in development, the need for systems that can effectively provide this level of space situational awareness is paramount. According to NASA, more than 17.6 million pounds of material are already in orbit, and the number of satellites and debris in space is only expected to grow in the near future, increasing the likelihood of collisions that could result in even more debris and increased danger to active satellites.
Lockheed Martin is the primary contractor on Space Fence and was awarded a $914 million contract for the project in 2014.
“Space Fence will revolutionize the way we track and classify objects that threaten both manned and unmanned military and commercial space assets critical to our national defense and economy,” said Rob Smith, vice president and general manager of Lockheed Martin’s Radar and Sensor Systems in a statement. “The Air Force Space Surveillance Network currently tracks about 25,000 objects. When Space Fence comes online, the catalog will experience significant growth and when fully operational, Space Fence will be the world’s largest and most advanced radar system, providing unprecedented space situational awareness.”
Early testing has already demonstrated the systems advanced capabilities. During a March experiment, the Space Fence was able to pick up the orbital debris from an Indian anti-satellite test and plot out their next crossing times.
The Air Force anticipates declaring operational acceptance of the new system following the trial period.
CORRECTION: This story has been updated to more accurately represent Space Fence’s capabilities.
Nathan Strout covers space, unmanned and intelligence systems for C4ISRNET.