Space Fence program awards contracts for concept development



by Monica D. Morales
66th Air Base Wing Public Affairs


7/31/2009 - HANSCOM AIR FORCE BASE, Mass. -- Last month's award of three $30-million concept development contracts for the Space Fence program will yield an outcropping of risk reduction activities -- alternative radar designs, architecture/trade studies and prototyping - all designed to improve the overall space surveillance network.

"This is truly a classic multi-contractor, prototyping risk-reduction effort, and a return on the investment of the program to gather data to improve the follow-on phases," said Linda Haines, Space Fence program manager.

The 850th Electronic Systems group, the Electronic Systems Center organization responsible for the Space Fence's acquisition and development, awarded the three contracts to Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and Raytheon on June 11.

The Space Fence is a system of three S-band ground-based radars designed to perform uncued detection, tracking and accurate measurement of orbiting space objects. The Space Fence is intended to replace the Air Force Space Surveillance System, or VHF Fence, that was transferred from the U.S. Navy to the Air Force in 2004. The higher wave frequency of the Space Fence allows for detection of much smaller microsatellites and debris.

The concept of the 'fence' itself is created by the strategic placement of multiple radars that cover enough continuous area to track space objects when they enter the Earth's orbit at certain angles. The land-based geographically dispersed sites will significantly improve timeliness for space event detection.

This current System Design Review phase will last more than a year and will include systems requirement reviews, design reviews and a three-month demonstration period with each of the three contractors.

"We will be getting systems engineering, architecture, modeling and simulation and analysis that will be used to update the Capabilities Development Document for the next phase, in addition to informing our lifecycle cost estimates and performance parameters," Ms. Haines said.

The February collision of a U.S. Iridium communications satellite and a Russian Cosmos 2251 communications satellite, which added hundreds more pieces of debris to the atmosphere, highlighted the need for more precise tracking of space objects.

"The Space Fence is going to be the most precise radar in the space situational surveillance network," Ms. Haines said. "The S-band capability will provide the highest accuracy in detecting even the smallest space objects."

Avoiding space collisions is important because it averts adding to the thousands of existing objects and debris already in space. All these objects present potential threats for communication or GPS satellites or even NASA's International Space Station and the Shuttle.

Though current capabilities allow operators to monitor space launches, the Space Fence's radar architecture - three radars strategically located around the world- will yield a higher return in terms of timeliness and characterization of space events.

"Having these radars will boost the completeness of the resident space object catalog, in terms of accuracy and maintenance, and give an order of magnitude improvement in capability for space situational awareness," she said.

Data collected from the Space Fence's sensors would potentially feed into the Joint Space Operations Center Mission System, which is used to track objects orbiting the Earth, monitor space weather and assess foreign launches. Used by operators at the 614th Air and Space Operations Center at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., the 614 AOC's 24-hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week support provides vigilance of global and theater operations and equips the Joint Functional Component Command for space operations with the tools to conduct command and control of space forces.

The Space Fence's follow-on full and open competition is expected in the fall of 2010, following an In Process Review with the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics, Dr. Ashton Carter.