Space Fence. Credit: Lockheed Martin

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Air Force has awarded two contracts worth about $10 million combined for Lockheed Martin and Raytheon to further demonstrate how their competing prototypes of an advanced space surveillance system would handle a range of operational scenarios.

The awards come as both companies continue to await the Air Force’s selection of a prime contractor for the multibillion-dollar Space Fence, a ground-based radar system designed to dramatically improve the Pentagon’s space-object tracking capabilities. That long-delayed contract award is now expected in April.

According to a Dec. 20 posting on the U.S. Federal Business Opportunities (FBO) website, Lockheed Martin Mission Systems and Training of Moorestown, N.J., received a $4.9 million contract Dec. 11. Industry sources said Raytheon Integrated Defense Systems of Tewksbury, Mass., received a nearly identical contract, but as of Dec. 27 that award had yet to be  posted on the site.

Lockheed Martin and Raytheon have spent years developing competing designs and prototypes for the new Space Fence, which will be capable of tracking greater numbers of smaller objects than current U.S. space surveillance assets.

Under the bridge contracts, the Air Force would fund demonstrations of how the Space Fence would handle various space events and focus surveillance on different orbits, such as medium-altitude, highly elliptical and geosynchronous orbit. The contractors also would be asked to show how a new Space Fence might build up its catalog of objects in Earth orbit.

The activity will get the Air Force thinking “about how it wants to use the system,” Steve Bruce, Lockheed Martin’s vice president of advanced systems, said in October, shortly after the service unveiled plans for the bridge contracts.

The studies are expected to last about 5.5 months, according to an October post on the FBO site.

Meanwhile, the Air Force released its revamped request for proposals for the Space Fence Dec. 12. Because of the delays in awarding the prime contract, the modified request for proposals asks Lockheed Martin and Raytheon to include a new funding profile and target date for initial operational capability.

The Air Force has spent at least $1.3 billion on the Space Fence program since 2006, according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office.

Mike Gruss covers military space issues, including the U.S. Air Force and Missile Defense Agency, for SpaceNews. He is a graduate of Miami University in Oxford, Ohio.