Sharpening the View

The Air Force would like to choose a contractor in Fiscal 2009 to upgrade the Space Fence, a key component of the nation’s space surveillance network, according to newly issued budget documents. The Space Fence is a series of radar sites running along the southern part of the US from California to Georgia that track objects in orbit down to the size of a basketball. It has been in operation since 1961. The Air Force intends to switch the radars from the VHF-band to S-band to increase their resolution so that they can track items about the size of a golfball. This is just one of the initiatives that USAF has underway to improve its ability to monitor man-made and natural objects in space that could threaten US space assets. The service expects to achieve initial operational capability of the upgraded fence in Fiscal 2015. Toward that end, USAF plans to decide this year on the path forward and then hold a competition next fiscal year to choose the contractor. It has asked for $45.3 million to fund the project in Fiscal 2009, up from the $13.9 million that it will spend this year. Once upgraded, the Space Fence “will expand the detection and tracking capacity of the Space Situation Awareness network by and order of magnitude, from 10,000 to 100,000 objects, while working in concert with other network sensors,” the Air Force writes in its Fiscal 2009 budget justification documents. (For more on space control read Hold the High Ground)