Space Fence: Surveillance Project to track space objects, debris, satellites

Space Fence Project of US Space Force

Our space and orbit are full of satellites, space stations, litter, junk, and debris. They are in a huge number and they are near our earth. These objects revolve around the earth in different orbits. Due to some purpose, incidents, and reasons, the number of space debris has also increased. The debris can cause many problems, and we need to track them. Unwanted debris may collide with valuable satellites, space stations, and other bodies. This can cause a huge problem in our space. So, Space Fence is a project by the US Space Force that helps solve tracking and space surveillance issues.

If you have seen the movie Gravity (2013), you probably know objects in space move very fast, and they can be dangerous. These objects can get out of control and move around with a velocity of about 30000 Km/hr. This speed is very dangerous because of energy and momentum. In case of a collision with other important objects, it could cause a devastating result. More unwanted dangerous debris may be created and can float everywhere. This can also cause a chain of collisions in space which is expensive. We also have many important satellites in space and if anything happens to them, a lot of problems can arise.

Space Fence is a high-tech project operated by the US Space Force that helps to detect, track, and catalog different satellites, objects, and debris around Earth. US Air force awarded a contract of around $1.5 billion in 2014. Lockheed Martin developed the system with S-band ground-based radars. The system is operational from March 2020 according to US Space Force. Before deployment of this, the preexisting monitoring system could only capture information of objects which were bigger than 10 cm.


Space Fence for Space Surveillance

Space Fence is a high-value project for the USA. It has been developed by Lockheed Martin, Amec, and General Dynamics SATCOM Technologies. They are industry-leading companies in the defense, radar, aircraft, and advanced manufacturing. The basic structure of the Space Fence includes ground-based S-band radars. The radars can be in multiple locations. The operational one is currently at the Republic of the Marshall Islands.

Space Fence uses digital beaming technology to detect and track space objects such as debris, satellites, etc. There are many things such as rocket boosters, stray hardware, operational commercial and military satellites, and dead satellites. These things pose threat to new rocket launches, current healthy satellites, and other debris. The collision of these closely spaced objects can cause a chain reaction a lot of damage. This is why it is important to have surveillance for correct assessment, lost object location, maneuvers, and planning.

The space fence can track a large number of bodies in lower earth orbit, medium earth orbit, and geosynchronous orbit. It can also predict the path or trajectory of space objects in lower earth orbit. Most importantly the system can predict future incidents like the intersection of bodies, trajectory, and even collision. This project helps to get prior information even for small bodies. Therefore we can maneuver and change the path, altitude, and position of satellites to prevent such mishappenings.

Lock heed project Demo
Lock heed project Demo (Image Credit: Lockheed Martin)

The system is integrated into the current Space Surveillance Network (SSN) for efficiency. The coolest feature of Space Fence is the ability to create a micro fence for high-value satellites or objects. The micro fence is electronically constructed to collect more data and focused more radar resources on target object.


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Technology and infrastructure behind the system

Space Fence is actually a ground-based system with S band radars. This means all the infrastructures, sensors, radars are on the ground on earth. S band covers the frequency from 2 GHz to 4 GHz. It is a very special band because of its use in communication in air traffic control (ATC), weather radar, ship radar, and communication with International Space Station (ISS). S band also covers the 2.4 GHz frequency which is used in WiFi. The ground-based station of Space Fence has transmitter array, receiver array, and calibration towers. The arrays use protection from pressurized electronically transparent ray dome.

The array and system are scalable. It means there is space for growth as well. The radar’s architecture uses digital beamforming technology. This gives flexibility and more power to the program. Space Fence is net-centric, efficient, and has low bandwidth demand.

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Better view of space and better control for satefy

Ever since we started launching rockets and payloads outside of our earth, we have been polluting it. There are lots of wanted and unwanted stuff up there. The unwanted stuff includes used rocket boosters, dead satellites, unwanted metal pieces, and debris. They float around in the orbit and pose a threat. They are always present, and the live satellites and space stations always need to be aware of them. Now a project like Space Fence can help in such a situation. We can get more data on position, trajectory, and possibility of collision.

Our space is getting crowded and polluted each day. It needs proper control and monitor to ensure the safety of other valuable assets. Satellites are very crucial for communications, scientific study, defense, and information. Just one damage to an important satellite can stall lives on earth. For example GPS satellites. Those are very important for positioning, survey, flights, and driverless vehicles. So if anything happens to them, it can be chaotic.

There is actually another security concern, as well. In this world of advanced technology, there are many satellite threats as well. Some rogue satellites might maneuver into other’s orbit and affect the communication or spy on it. The space fence project can definitely help control those activities as it helps to monitor smaller objects. USSF has a data-sharing agreement with a few powerful countries. Those nations could also benefit from technology.

First Published: 2015/01/19


Featured Image Credit: Lockheed Martin

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About the Author: Abhishek Chand

Structural Engineer by profession. Computer and smartphone enthusiast. Tech-savvy blogger and former Gadget reviewer of AP1 HD TV and TechnoNepal.

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