Lockheed Martin prepares to turn on U.S. Air Force Space Fence on Kwajalein Atoll

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SAN FRANCISCO — In June, Lockheed Martin plans to complete integration of the U.S. Air Force Space Fence on Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands and begin tracking objects, at least in a testing mode.

Full integration and testing is scheduled to begin in July as the company confirms the S-band radar array meets all contractual requirements.

“After that, we will turn it over to the Air Force for testing and trials,” said Bruce Schafhauser, Lockheed Martin Space Fence program manager.

As companies prepare to send hundreds or thousands of satellites into communications constellations in low Earth orbit, government agencies and commercial satellite operators are calling for enhanced space situational awareness and space traffic management.

The Air Force Space Fence in Kwajalein will help but Lockheed Martin is hoping to provide additional observations with a second Space Fence in Western Australia. The Air Force authorized Lockheed Martin to begin surveying the site for the second radar facility but has not yet allocated funding to build it.

“Having a second space fence will give you more opportunities to track and ultimately understand where things are so you can help prevent collisions,” said Matthew Hughes, business development manager for Lockheed Martin space surveillance programs.

In early 2019, the Kwajalein Space Fence is scheduled to begin initial operations. The Space Fence will sends out a curtain of radio frequency energy wider than the continental United States. As satellites and debris pass through the curtain, the system will detect them and determine whether the objects are already in the Space Surveillance Network’s catalog, Schafhauser said.

“If they correlate with what’s in the catalog, we drop them pretty fast,” said Schafhauser. “But if it’s something new, we track it through the entire field of regard and get a very accurate orbital determination.”

In addition to keeping tabs on low Earth orbit, the Space Fence is designed to create smaller “micro-fences” in every orbit up to geostationary orbit,” Schafhauser said.