Space Fence is a second-generation space surveillance system being built by the US Air Force (USAF) in order to track artificial satellites and space debris in Earth orbit.
The Space Fence Program has made great progress since MONCh reported on its status at the 2017 SMD Symposium (story here). Matt Hughes, Lockheed Martin’s Space Surveillance Business Development Manager with the Space Fence Program, noted: “Construction and hardware install is complete at the sensor site on Kwajalein Atoll as well as at the operations center located at the Reagan Test Site (RTS) Operations Center in Huntsville, AL (ROC-H). In February, the team tracked its first set of objects from Kwajalein with a reduced aperture. By May, the digital array radar was successfully scaled up to its full aperture size and has been tracking space objects since, providing operationally-relevant information from LEO (low Earth orbit) to GEO (geosynchronous Earth orbit).”
The programme is more than 93% complete and is progressing through its on-island Integration and Test Phase. Mr. Hughes continued: “Later this Fall, the programme will transition to Government-led testing that will culminate with an Initial Operational Capability (IOC) in mid-2019.”
The manager recalled some of Space Fence’s capabilities and the returns on investment it will provide the US taxpayers.
Space Fence was said to be an extremely flexible and adaptable radar that brings with it unprecedented sensitivity, coverage, and accuracy. “It detects, tracks, and catalogues objects in LEO, MEO (medium Earth orbit), and GEO. It has the ability to simultaneously operate an un-cued surveillance fence and cued micro fences to gather more data on high interest objects. Due to its ability to detect small objects in LEO (down to approximately 1cm diameter with mini-cued fences), it is expected to grow the space catalo from approximately 20,000 objects currently up to 100,000 depending on the background assumptions.”
Further, there are also big plans for large LEO constellations that will further congest certain orbital planes with the proliferation of world-wide broadband satellites. “The military and commercial sector rely heavily on space assets. Accurately understanding where space debris and objects are with respect to launch, orbiting, and reentry is significantly important. Beyond cataloging, Space Fence will aid the USAF in identifying space events such as closely-spaced objects, breakups, maneuvers, launches, and conjunction assessments,” Mr. Hughes pointed out. “By accurately predicting orbits, Space Fence can reconstruct recent space events and more importantly, predict new ones so operators can make informed decisions.”
Lockheed Martin has a long and proven radar heritage, with some of the technologies efficiently being brought to bear in the S-band Space Fence. “Our S-band portfolio includes systems that have been fielded with the United States DoD and foreign militaries. Examples of such S-band radars include the AEGIS AN/SPY-1 portfolio and the Counterfire Target Acquisition Radar AN/TPQ-53. S-Band systems that are being developed include Space Fence and the Long-Range Discrimination Radar (LRDR), both of which are active electronically scanned arrays (AESA) that employ solid state Gallium Nitride (GaN) high power amplifier technology. Earlier this year Lockheed Martin delivered three TPS-77 MRRs, which use GaN technology, to Latvia,” Mr. Hughes explained.
Lockheed Martin’s Space Fence industry partners include Wood (a result of a merger between Wood Group and Amec Foster Wheeler) for facility design and construction, and General Dynamics Mission Systems (GDMS) for Large Antenna Structure and other support systems.
Of additional note, USAF exercised a contract option earlier in the year for Lockheed Martin to conduct a site survey in Western Australia, which is currently in progress. This survey enables both the USAF and Lockheed Martin to gain a better understanding of the regulatory, geological, and logistic environments associated with the potential second site, which is currently unfunded. Mr. Hughes continued: “The results from the survey will facilitate significant risk mitigation to contract execution. The second site provides enhanced accuracy, timeliness, custody, and resilience. It will increase coverage in the southern hemisphere as well as in deep space.”
Mr. Hughes concluded: “The USAF has been an exceptional partner to work with during the first site design, development, construction, and test phases. Together, we plan on delivering this critical mission capability to the warfighter next year. Lockheed Martin also looks forward to the opportunity to partner again on the potential second site that would further increase the USAF capabilities in space.”