The Space Fence – a surveillance system designed to detect smaller space debris and other missiles – will be discontinued at the start of the fiscal year. That means Five Rivers Services, a defense contractor in the Springs, will lose one of its government contracts. However, the company has other contracts with the Coast Guard, according to its website.
Five Rivers referred all questions to the 21st Space Wing at Peterson Air Force Base.
The fence currently has three transmitters and six receivers along the 33rd parallel, stretching across the southern United States. The three transmitter sites that will be closing are located in Alabama, Texas and Arizona. Receivers are located at two sites in Georgia, one in Mississippi, Arkansas, Texas and Arizona. The Air Force already deactivated one Georgia site and the one in Mississippi.
Air Force officials say that the surveillance system, operational since 1961, is just one part of its overall space surveillance network. The system is designed to transmit a “fence” of radar energy vertically into space to detect all objects intersecting the fence. It can detect object in “un-cued” observations – not tracking them based on previous information.
But officials say the design is dated and data is inaccurate. New operating systems at Cavalier and Eglin Air Force bases provide more accurate information.
“The AFSSS is much less capable than the space fence radar planned for Kwajalein Island in the Republic of the Marshall Islands,” said Gen. William L. Shelton, commander of Air Force Space Command. “In fact, it’s apples and oranges in trying to compare the two systems.”
Unlike the AFSSS, the new space fence will provide very precise positional data on orbiting objects and will be the most accurate radar in the Space Surveillance Network.
The newer system will provide capabilities to detect and track orbiting objects such as commercial and military satellites, depleted space boosters and space debris. It will have much greater sensitivity, allowing it to detect, track and measure an object the size of a softball orbiting more than 1,200 miles in space. Because it is also an un-cued tracking system, it will provide evidence of satellite break-ups, collisions or unexpected maneuvers of satellites.
“When combined with the new Joint Space Operations Center’s high performance computing environment, the new fence will truly represent a quantum leap forward in space situational awareness for the nation,” Shelton said.