WASHINGTON — The U.S. Defense Department’s expanding network of international partners in space surveillance will have indirect access to data from the Pentagon’s next-generation Space Fence tracking system, a top U.S. military official said.
“Once operational, the Space Fence is scheduled to serve as an additional sensor in the Space Surveillance Network, effectively enhancing the information available to all existing and future [space situational awareness] partners,” Navy Adm. Cecil Haney, commander of Strategic Command, said in a written response to SpaceNews questions. “The same type of data available now will be shared with our partners once the Space Fence is operational.”
To date, Strategic Command has announced data-sharing agreements with at least seven countries and 44 companies, but few details about those agreements have been made public. Some in the space community had wondered how much of the Air Force’s new $1 billion Space Fence would be part of those agreements, if at all.
Strategic Command’s data-sharing agent is the Joint Space Operations Center (JSpOC) at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, which receives data from the Space Surveillance Network, a combination of terrestrial and space-based sensors, both optical and radar, Haney said. The network tracks and catalogs satellites and debris, information that is used for warning operators of potential collisions, among other purposes.
Strategic Command has announced space situational awareness data-sharing agreements with Australia, Japan, Italy, Canada, France, the Republic of Korea and the United Kingdom. It also has agreements with the European Space Agency and Europe’s Eumetsat weather satellite organization, Haney said.
The Space Fence, an S-band radar that will be capable of tracking greater numbers of smaller objects than current U.S. space surveillance assets, will join the network in 2019. To accommodate those data, as well as other sensors both internal and external to the Defense Department, the Air Force is undertaking a modernization of the JSpOC’s computing systems, a program known as the JSpOC Mission System.
The Space Fence would track about 200,000 objects and make 1.5 million observations per day, about 10 times the number made by existing or recently retired assets including the Air Force Space Surveillance System, which was mothballed in 2013. The system initially will consist of a radar site on the Kwajalein Atoll in the Pacific Ocean near the equator.
In June, Lockheed Martin Mission Systems and Training of Moorestown, New Jersey, won a $914 million contract from the Air Force to develop the Space Fence. AMEC Foster Wheeler of London, which provides architectural and engineering work, and General Dynamics C4 Systems SATCOM Technologies of Scottsdale, Arizona, are major subcontractors on the program.
In a Nov. 18 interview, Steve Bruce, vice president for advanced systems at Lockheed Martin Mission Systems and Training, said the company anticipates a Jan. 5 groundbreaking at the Kwajalein site and a critical design review to test the maturity of the Space Fence technologies in March.
Most recently, Lockheed Martin has been focusing on completing environmental impact studies and site surveys as well as delivering construction equipment and materials to the Marshall Islands, Bruce said.
The Air Force has asked for virtually no changes to the contract since June, Bruce said.
“We’re moving along very well for a big program,” Bruce said. Lockheed Martin expects to complete and deliver the system in September 2018, he said.