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C4iSR: Air

US Air Force's Space Fence enters hardware installation phase

16 June 2017

Key Points

  • The US Air Force entered hardware installation, a key phase, in its Space Fence programme
  • The programme will allow the USAF to eventually track space objects the size of a marble

The US Air Force in April started the installation and checkout phase of its Space Fence construction. Seen here is a view of the facility from March. (Lockheed Martin)The US Air Force in April started the installation and checkout phase of its Space Fence construction. Seen here is a view of the facility from March. (Lockheed Martin)

The US Air Force (USAF) expects to complete hardware installation for its Space Fence space situational awareness (SSA) programme around August or September, according to a key official.

Elaine Doyle, the Space Fence programme manager, told Jane's in a 9 June interview the programme started hardware installation in April, commencing the installation and checkout phase, and is now installing power cabinets, transmit and receive power cables, and some processors. Although Doyle said there is quite a bit of hardware to be installed, all of the hardware has been produced and is being shipped to the Space Fence site at Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands. Doyle said the USAF is waiting on a small number of cabinets to be shipped from Los Angeles, California.

Space Fence will dramatically improve the way the USAF identifies and tracks objects in space, according to prime contractor Lockheed Martin. The company said Space Fence will use gallium nitride-powered S-band ground-based radars to provide uncued detection, tracking, and accurate measurement of space objects, primarily in low earth orbit.

Currently the USAF only has the ability to track space objects in low earth orbit (LEO) that are roughly the size of a basketball, Doyle said. Space Fence, she said, will provide much greater sensitivity and allow the service to detect, track, and characterise objects to the size of a softball (9.7 cm diameter) in uncued, or passive, search.

For cued, or much more detailed tracking, Doyle said the USAF will be able to track marble-sized (roughly 1 cm diameter) objects. Objects the size of a marble can pose threats to satellites and other spacecraft because they travel at high velocities.

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