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Debris Detection Developments—The Space Fence
Debris has the potential to be downright lethal to multi-million dollar communication and intelligence satellites, national security, astronauts and, yes, even the citizenry of Earth.

Debris fills the spatial environs that surround our Earth. Once a satellite is decommissioned, or otherwise incapacitated via intentional or accidental intrusions, remnants drift dangerously within orbital slots, as well as above and below such designated orbits. Such has been going on since Earth’s first artificial satellite launch in 1957.

DebrisFig1 Two companies who have been engaged in the creation of a debris identification solutions are Lockheed Martin and Raytheon. Their cause is more than just these issues, for more than Global Positioning System viability is at stake—debris has the potential to be downright lethal to multi-million dollar communication and intelligence satellites, national security, astronauts and, yes, even the citizenry of Earth. These two companies have produced exceedingly important information regarding Space Fence and an examination of this technology is in order for MilsatMagazine readers. We thank both firms for their illustrative and insightful websites that assisted in the preparation of this article.

The “tipping point” has been reached as far as space debris is concerned, according to the National Research Council. Havoc could easily result if a section of debris crosses paths with a satellite—the damage incurred could last from days to months and the fact is that at some point the debris fields will be filled with so much space debris, and the slots with so many satellites, there may be no method whereby new objects could be launched into orbit.

The Space Fence program will bring to the U.S. Air Force the capability to detect and track space objects. The estimate is that there are more than a half a million pieces of debris in existence, with more than 20,000 objects identified. According to the U.S.A.F., about 95 percent of all space objects are debris.

Debris sizes as small as 1 centimeter cruising at almost 17,000 miles per hour can actually destroy a satellite, or at the minimum, damage its operational capabilities. Debris that has already been documented as part of the plethora of debris includes rocket parts that have been abandoned, a space glove from the Gemini 4 flight in 1965, disabled satellites and debris resultant of an already occurred collision.

Teledyne_ad_MSM0213 An example of the latter is the 2007 intentional satellite destruction by China which resulted in 900+ pieces of debris littering Low-Earth-Orbit (LEO) as well as the massive debris field that resulted from the 2009 collision between the Iridium 33 satellite and the Russian Kosmos-2251 satellite.

Far more recently, debris threatened the International Space Station in 2011 and 2012. The near miss in 2011 had the ISS crew move into the ISS’ escape capsules for emergency evacuation to Earth, and the latter evacuation procedure was necessary when a parts of a discarded Russian satellite threatened the space station.

Image, if you can, a world where accurate weather forecasting can no longer depend upon satellites, or where a consumer’s satellite TV is devoid of downlinked content. Without GPS satellites, banks would find their global operations at a complete standstill, transportation would come to a grinding halt, warfighters would have to operate without ISR leading to more loss of life and fewer successful missions, and power grids would fail. As you can easily determine, this is no “shrug of the shoulders” situation. Much is at stake with the continued health of satellites.

The Space Fence—What It Is…
Since 1961, the U.S.A.F. has been operating the Space Surveillance System radar. Due to its age and other encumbrances, this system can no longer effectively provide the situational awareness for safe space operation. The US$3.5B (estimated cost) Space Fence will possess the capability of tracking approximately 200,000 space objects through the use of higher wave S-band radars. Such will enable greater accuracy and the identification of far smaller pieces than the existing system can identify and will operate 24/7, enabling unanticipated detection and debris tracking of objects in, primarily, low-Earth orbit (LEO).

In December of last year, the Air Force Life Cycle Management Program published a RFP to move the Space Fence program forward. This RFP is for the final development and construction of Site 1 and an option for Site 2 for Space Fence ops. The contract award is expected during the spring of 2013 and should result in the fielding and initial operation capability as well as the system’s final development. Increment 1 of this award covers the aforementioned development and construction processes, and the Increment 2 option is for Site 2 completion and full system integration.

Lockheed Martin and Raytheon have received awards for an 18-month primary system and prototype development project, as well as to engage in the analysis of radar performance and other evaluations and technical activities. With four incremental reviews, there will then be a two day event for final demonstrations. The PDRs enable the government to conduct design review over time and enable the timely feedback of issues that require amelioration.

DebrisFig2 The importance of the Space Fence was underscored by General William Shelton, the commander of Air Forcer Space Command. He spoke at the recent Air Force Association’s Air & Space conference and fully expects the contract award this quarter. He said operational capability is likely to occur by 2017 with the first site of the location for the big radar system, and a second site for a tracking radar. However, funding is not expected during Q1 2013 for the second site, as fiscal constraints are having their impact on a number of missions.

He added, “It will give us the ability to see a softball-sized object 1,200 miles from Earth. So, you can imagine what that will do for our [USAF] capability to catalog objects in LEO, or our ability to manage traffic. And understand the environment we are launching into for our launches. All that data is going to come from the Space Fence and the SBSS and other sensors around the world—perhaps missile defence radars—and allied capabilities, is going to provide a much better picture of what’s going on in space. I can’t sing enough praises on Space Fence and what it will represent.”

Lockheed Martin
A prototype of a new radar system developed by a Lockheed Martin-led team is now tracking orbiting space objects, bringing the U.S. Air Force’s Space Fence program one step closer to revolutionizing our nation’s space situational awareness.

Using powerful, new ground-based radars, Space Fence will dramatically enhance the way the U.S. detects, tracks, measures and catalogs orbiting objects and space debris with improved accuracy, better timeliness and increased surveillance coverage. Lockheed Martin’s prototype radar recently met a key contract requirement during a series of demonstration events by proving it could detect these resident space objects, as they are referred to by the Air Force.

On February 29th, the Air Force granted its final approval of Lockheed Martin’s preliminary design for the system.

DebrisFig3 “The successful detection and tracking of resident space objects are important steps in demonstrating technology maturity, cost certainty and low program risk,” said Steve Bruce, vice president of the Space Fence program at Lockheed Martin’s Mission Systems & Sensors business. “Our final system design incorporates a scalable, solid-state S-band radar, with a higher wavelength frequency capable of detecting much smaller objects than the Air Force’s current system.”

Space Fence will enable the decommissioning of the aging U.S.-based Air Force Space Surveillance System (AFSSS), originally installed in 1961. With more than 60 nations operating in space today, the final frontier is much more complex than when the AFSSS first started tracking a few hundred orbiting objects. Today, with hundreds of thousands of objects orbiting the Earth, space debris and risk of potential collisions now threaten national space assets providing critical services, including the Global Positioning System, banking and telecommunications.

Bruce added, “Space Fence will detect, track and catalog over 200,000 orbiting objects and help transform space situational awareness from being reactive to predictive.  The Air Force will have more time to anticipate events potentially impacting space assets and missions. Our net-centric design approach allows Space Fence to be easily integrated into the broader U.S. Space Surveillance Network of sensors already operated by the Air Force.”

DebrisFig4 Lockheed Martin’s Space Fence prototype was developed under an 18-month, $107 million contract awarded by the Air Force in January 2011. The Air Force has said it plans to award a Space Fence production contract later in 2012. The first of several Space Fence sites is expected to reach initial operational capability in 2017. The Company currently has 400 operational S-band arrays deployed worldwide. The Lockheed Martin-led team including General Dynamics, AMEC and AT&T—has decades of collective experience in space-related programs, including sensors, mission processing, cataloging, orbital mechanics, net-centric communications and facilities.

Raytheon Company has been awarded a $107 million U.S. Air Force contract to further the design of the Space Fence system. Under this contract, Raytheon will deliver a preliminary design and test a functional radar prototype to ensure cost and schedule certainty and technical maturity of the final design in support of Milestone B.

“As the amount of debris in space continues to rise, the ability to detect smaller and smaller objects with more affordable, ground-based sensors becomes increasingly urgent,” said Dave Gulla, vice president, National and Theater Security Programs for Raytheon Integrated Defense Systems. “Leveraging our vast heritage in radar development, combined with our latest technological advancements, the Raytheon Space Fence solution provides the Air Force with an affordable and much-needed, increased space situational awareness capability for many years to come.”

DebrisFig5 The work performed during this phase continues to reduce total program risk through the development of a preliminary design with mature technologies that meet or exceed Technology Readiness Level 6 and Manufacturing Readiness Level 6. In addition, a functional radar prototype, with hardware and software components representative of the technology in the final design, will demonstrate the maturity of these critical technologies.

In January, Raytheon’s prototype detected and tracked Resident Space Objects. The Space Fence team also demonstrated the technical maturity of all program components as part of a comprehensive preliminary design review conducted by the Air Force. Later this year, Raytheon will compete for the final contract award to design and manufacture Space Fence.

A Site For Radar Eyes
The first Space Fence site will be constructed for the overall US$1.9B project on the Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands in the fall of 2013, with initial operations expected to start in 2017.

DebrisFig6 Located in the Republic of the Marshall Islands, the Space Fence radar will be capable of detecting, tracking, identifying and characterizing space objects in low and medium Earth orbits. Construction is expected to start in September 2013 and is planned to take 48 months to complete construction and testing.

Until the final design is determined, it is unknown exactly how many personnel will be required to construct the radar site. After construction is complete and the radar is operational, approximately 10 to 15 contractor personnel are projected for the long-term work force at Kwajalein to maintain the Space Fence radar.

A Support Agreement will be established between Air Force Space Command and the U.S. Army Kwajalein Atoll/Reagan Test Site for site support and facilities maintenance. Contractor operations and maintenance support for the radar site will fall under the responsibility of the USAF’s 21st Space Wing.