GARRISON-KWAJALEIN ATOLL, Republic of the Marshall Islands – Officials broke ground Feb. 10 here to kick off a 36-month construction effort to build the Space Fence radar system.
The Space Fence, an S-band radar, will be located on the Garrison Kwajalein Atoll, but the Space Fence Operations Center will be co-located at Reagan Test Site Operation Center in Huntsville or ROC-H.
“The Air Force’s installation of the new space fence radar marks a key milestone for both USAG-KA and RTS,” said Richard DeFatta, acting director, Space and Missile Defense Command/Army Forces Strategic Command’s Technical Center. “It brings another significant tenant to the garrison, but will also allow the range to explore cooperative opportunities to work with the Air Force in SMDC/ARSTRAT’s critical space operational mission area.”
The Space Fence will provide the capability for dedicated uncued surveillance of small objects in low-earth orbit with useful capability in the higher orbit regimes. Uncued detection provides a continuous “curtain” of radar pulses forming a “fence” that enables detection, tracking and determination of objects’ orbits without prior knowledge of their existence or location. The system will improve space situational awareness by detecting and tracking objects such as commercial and military satellites and debris from break-up events at a higher accuracy. Coverage will extend down to just above the horizon to handle low-inclination orbits.
The Space Fence will work in conjunction with the Joint Space Operations Center, or JSpOC, to provide an integrated picture of the space operating environment for the war fighter.
“Previously, the Air Force could only track and identify items the size of a basketball,” said Dana Whalley, the Space Fence program manager, who is stationed at Hanscom Air Force Base, Massachusetts. “With the new system, we’ll be able to identify items down to the size of a softball. This will significantly increase our capability to provide predictive and actionable space situational awareness for the nation.
“The program will provide knowledge of objects, debris and events that will help us to maintain U.S. and allied space capabilities, protect space assets and prevent potential collisions in near-earth orbit,” Whalley said.
The Space Fence is designed to provide assured coverage at low earth orbit for objects as small as 10 cm. The system will also support cued searches and uncued surveillance at medium earth orbit and above. The increased Space Fence sensitivity, coupled with the increased computing capabilities of the JSpOC Mission System, will yield a greater understanding of the space operating environment and associated threats.
“By providing a better picture of the space operating environment, Space Fence will greatly improve the Air Force’s ability to see and understand that battlespace,” Whalley said.
Officials awarded the engineering, manufacturing and design contract valued at $914 million to Lockheed Martin on June 2. About 250 workers will live on island during the construction period, which is expected to be ongoing until February 2018. Once the construction is complete, the Air Force will begin conducting acceptance testing. The projected initial operational capability is fiscal 2019. The contract also includes an option for procuring a second radar site.
The Space Fence will replace the Air Force Space Surveillance System, or AFSSS, which has been in service since 1961 and could track about 20,000 objects before being shut down last year. The Space Fence will expand that to 100,000 objects or more by using two strategically placed ground radars, with the first one to be located on Kwajalein and the second to be located in Australia if further procurement allows for it.
“We must work jointly to ensure there are no impacts to ongoing operations and test activities. The Air Force will operate the radar, co-located with RTS operations, in our Huntsville ROC-H facility. We are excited with this opportunity to work together and leverage our lessons learned from our many years of operating RTS both on island and remotely,” DeFatta said. “I’m glad I was able to be here to support the ground breaking ceremony, which symbolizes the necessary cooperation between the Air Force, the Army and our contractor partners.”