Indian Anti-Satellite Test Proves Early Test for Space Fence

This is an aerial photo of the U.S. Air Force Space Surveillance Network on Kwajalein Atoll slated for initial operations in late 2019.
This is an aerial photo of the U.S. Air Force Space Surveillance Network on Kwajalein Atoll slated for initial operations in late 2019. (Image credit: Lockheed Martin)

COLORADO SPRINGS — Still in testing mode, the U.S. Air Force Space Fence on Kwajalein Atoll detected India's March 27 anti-satellite test and issued a break-up alert.

"We happened to be up during an endurance test and we were very excited to see that the system performed nominally," Matthew Hughes, Lockheed Martin Space Fence and Space Surveillance programs business development manager, told SpaceNews. "Space fence is all about the ability to identify break ups, maneuvers, closely spaced objects, proximity operations, new foreign launches."

Lockheed Martin completed construction of Space Fence and is conducting testing and evaluation of its capabilities. The Air Force is scheduled to begin initial operation of the ground-based radar, which sends out a curtain of radio frequency energy wider than the continental United States, in the fourth quarter of this year.

Related:  India's Anti-Satellite Missile Test Is a Big Deal. Here's Why.

The Space Fence is designed to detect unusual activity in orbit, like multiple objects in orbit that do not correlate to objects in the Space Surveillance Network catalog. When new objects are detected, it issues alerts and begins tracking them to determine their orbits, he added.

Lockheed Martin also completed surveying a location for a second Space Fence in Western Australia. The Air Force authorized Lockheed Martin to survey the site but did not request funding to build a second Space Fence in its 2020 budget.

Having a second site, particularly one in the Southern Hemisphere "would significantly increases the accuracy and timeliness" of unusual orbital activity by allowing the radar to observe objects more frequently, Hughes said. Since most Space Surveillance radars are located in the Northern Hemisphere, "a site in the Southern Hemisphere adds a lot of value," he added.

This story was provided by SpaceNews, dedicated to covering all aspects of the space industry. 

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SpaceNews Correspondent

Debra Werner is a correspondent for SpaceNews based in San Francisco. She earned a bachelor’s degree in communications from the University of California, Berkeley, and a master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University. Debra is a recipient of the 1989 Gerald Ford Prize for Distinguished Reporting on National Defense. Her SN Commercial Drive newsletter is sent out on Wednesdays.