The United States Air Force (USAF) has named the first location for its forthcoming replacement Air Force Space Surveillance System (AFSS), more popularly known as the ‘Space Fence’ cosmic debris tracking capability.
The new AFSS replaces the legacy architecture. It will use a network of radars to monitor objects which could pose a hazard to space navigation. On 28th September the USAF revealed that the first radar will be constructed on Kwajalein Island, part of the Republic of the Marshall Islands in the Pacific Ocean.
As reported in the May edition of ChainHomeHigh, the new AFSS architecture will utilise S-band radars to provide a sharper resolution to the current AFSS network of radars. Presently the AFSS uses three VHF transmitting systems based in Texas, Arizona and Alabama. Receiving elements are based in California, New Mexico, Arkansas, Mississippi and Georgia.
Crucially, the new radars will be able to see small-size debris which escapes the gaze of the legacy system. As a means of comparison, the legacy AFSS is said to be capable of tracking around 20,000 objects, whereas the new system will track up to 200,000. It will detect objects the size of a tennis ball at a range of 1,930km (1,042nm).
Currently, Lockheed Martin and Raytheon are completing an 18-month Space Fence Preliminary Design contract each worth €83 million ($107 million) awarded to the firms in January 2011. This award eliminated Northrop Grumman which had been nominated, along with the two companies mentioned above, in June 2009 to provide the ‘Phase A’ AFSS development in June 2009 under the terms of a contract worth €23 million ($30 million) to each firm.
Either Raytheon or Lockheed Martin will be selected by the end of the year to develop the full AFSS replacement architecture. This is expected to be declared operational by 2017. The full value of the forthcoming Space Fence contract is earmarked at €2.7 billion ($3.5 billion).