Fifth Generation Space Begins with Situational Awareness

There are more than 500,000 objects measuring one centimeter or greater on orbit that could pose a danger to US space assets, but the Air Force can only track about 23,000 of them, said Gen. William Shelton, Air Force Space Command boss, on Thursday at AFA’s Pacific Air & Space Symposium in Los Angeles. Unlike in the air domain, he said, the Air Force does not accommodate for attrition with its space assets, which range from satellite-based missile warning to navigation to protected communications. Shelton pushed back against a view that the way around space vulnerability is to scale back dependence, making the analogy to the development of aircraft. When air defense systems became more sophisticated, the Air Force pushed forward the development of stealth technology. In space, the Air Force similarly needs “fifth generation thinking,” said Shelton. “That starts with space situational awareness,” he said. Shelton said AFSPC received the go-ahead from the Office of the Secretary of Defense to move forward with the production contract for the Space Fence program next spring. While the program will experience a one-year delay, Shelton said the Space Fence would be enormously beneficial to SSA.