Since the 1960s, the U.S. Air Force has relied on the Space Surveillance Network to track orbiting objects. In the 1970s, NASA scientist Donald Kessler, envisioned a scenario – aptly named Kessler Syndrome – where cascading orbital collisions would create increasing debris fields, eventually destroying our assets in space.
As the years have advanced, so has the quantity of space debris, though our ability to reliably track and record it has not. Enter Lockheed Martin’s Space Fence. It’s not a fence in the literal sense. Space Fence is a highly advanced, ground-based radar networked with existing systems to detect far more debris, and with greater accuracy.
A piece of space garbage the size of a marble could disable a satellite – the same satellites that guide us to a new restaurant location, allow us to access our banking and financial accounts and surf the internet to check the latest weather forecast. These satellites also protect complex systems that safeguard our way of life.
“With more than 60 nations operating in space today, the final frontier is far more complex than when space exploration and use started,” explains Steve Bruce, Lockheed Martin vice president of Advanced Systems. “With hundreds of thousands of objects in earth orbit, space debris and the associated risk of potential collisions threaten space-based assets and critical systems that merit protection.”
Within our innovative radar’s open-architecture design, Lockheed Martin uses the latest monolithic microwave integrated circuit technology, including Gallium Nitride (GaN) semiconductor materials. GaN provides a number of significant advantages for active phased array radar systems, including higher power density, greater efficiency and significantly improved reliability over previous technologies.
In addition to engineering the radar arrays, the Lockheed Martin team also broke ground on the new six-acre Space Fence site earlier this year on Kwajalein Island, 2,100 miles southwest of Honolulu. The buildings are designed to handle high winds and seismic loads, while maintaining the alignment and accuracy of the radar system.
The sensor site installation will include an on-site operations center and an annex to the current island power plant that will ensure the Space Fence system has everything necessary to provide continuous Space Situational Awareness. Once construction is complete, Space Fence will go through testing and validation before its initial operating capability occurs in late 2018.