The U.S. Space Force (USSF) officials formally declared initial operational capability (IOC) and operational acceptance of the Space Fence radar system, located on Kwajalein Island in the Republic of the Marshall Islands, March 27.
The new radar system provides significantly improved space surveillance capabilities to detect and track orbiting objects such as commercial and military satellites, depleted rocket boosters and space debris in low, medium, and geosynchronous Earth orbit regimes.
“Space Fence is revolutionizing the way we view space by providing timely, precise orbital data on objects that threaten both manned and unmanned military and commercial space assets,” said Gen. Jay Raymond, Chief of Space Operations, USSF and Commander, U.S. Space Command. “Our space capabilities are critical to our national defense and way of life, which is why Space Fence is so important to enhance our ability to identify, characterize and track threats to those systems.”
The Space Fence radar facility forms part of the U.S. Space Surveillance Network (SSN) that detects, tracks, catalogs and identifies artificial objects orbiting Earth, e.g. active/inactive satellites, spent rocket bodies, or fragmentation debris.
The facility uses Lockheed Martin’s Gallium Nitride (GaN) powered S-band ground-based radars to provide the Space Force with uncued detection, tracking and accurate measurement of space objects, primarily in low-earth orbit (LEO).
This system is the most sensitive search radar in the SSN. The locations and higher wave frequency of the new radars will permit the detection of much smaller microsatellites and debris than current systems. The Space Force claims that the radar is capable of detecting objects as small as a marble in low earth orbit (LEO).
Before Space Fence, the SSN tracked more than 26,000 objects. With the initial operational capability and operational acceptance of the new system, the catalog size is expected to increase significantly over time. Information about objects tracked by the SSN is placed in the space catalog on www.space-track.org.
The Space Fence Program Office (AFLCMC/HBQB), operating under the acquisition authority of the Space and Missile System Center (SMC), awarded a contract to the Lockheed Martin Co. in June 2014 to develop the system.
Space Fence is operated by the USSF’s 20th Space Control Squadron (SPCS), Detachment 4, at the Space Fence Operations Center in Huntsville, Alabama, and provides data to the 18 SPCS located at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California. The 18 SPCS uses the data from SSN sensors to maintain the space object catalog and screen operational satellites, both maneuverable and non-maneuverable, against all objects in the space catalog, which includes satellites, rocket bodies and debris.
Both the 18th SPCS and 20th SPCS are part of the 21st Space Wing, headquartered at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs, Colorado. The 21st SW is the Department of the Air Force’s only wing providing ground-based missile warning, missile defense and space surveillance data in defense of North America and its allies.
A future second Space Fence site is planned to go online in 2021. It was reported last year that Lockheed Martin was surveying land in western Australia for the second location.