Sequester Shutters System for Tracking Threats From Outer Space

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Bob Brewin, Nextgov.com
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Bob Brewin, Nextgov.com
Aug. 14, 2013, 10:02 a.m.

WASH­ING­TON — Amid cost-cut­ting ef­forts, the Air Force plans to shut down an aging radar sys­tem that tracks thou­sands of ob­jects in space. The fate of a planned $2 bil­lion re­place­ment sys­tem is still up in the air.

The Air Force Space Com­mand said that “due to re­source con­straints caused by se­quest­ra­tion,” it has dir­ec­ted the 21st Space Wing to dis­con­tin­ue op­er­a­tions at the Air Force Space Sur­veil­lance Sys­tem by Oct. 1. De­ac­tiv­at­ing the sys­tem, which tracks satel­lites and or­bit­al debris, will save $14 mil­lion an­nu­ally.

The Air Force plans to re­place the space sur­veil­lance sys­tem with a new “space fence” that will in­clude new soph­ist­ic­ated radar on Kwa­jalein Is­land in the Pa­cific. “The AFSSS is much less cap­able than the space fence radar planned for Kwa­jalein Is­land in the Re­pub­lic of the Mar­shall Is­lands,” said Gen. Wil­li­am L. Shelton, com­mand­er of the Air Force Space Com­mand. “In fact, it’s apples and or­anges in try­ing to com­pare the two sys­tems.”

The space fence will provide en­hanced sur­veil­lance cap­ab­il­it­ies to de­tect and track or­bit­ing ob­jects such as com­mer­cial and mil­it­ary satel­lites, de­pleted space boost­ers and space debris, ac­cord­ing to the Space Com­mand. The fence will have much great­er sens­it­iv­ity than AFSSS, al­low­ing it to de­tect, track and meas­ure an ob­ject the size of a soft­ball or­bit­ing more than 1,200 miles in space.

Lock­heed Mar­tin Corp. and Ray­theon Co. sub­mit­ted com­pet­ing bids for the space fence last Novem­ber, Shelton said in a Ju­ly 16 speech. Brendan Curry, vice pres­id­ent of Wash­ing­ton op­er­a­tions for the non­profit Space Found­a­tion, said that des­pite the high price tag, the space fence will win Pentagon ap­prov­al be­cause of the need to track ob­jects in space that could in­ter­fere with satel­lite op­er­a­tions.

The Navy de­veloped the space sur­veil­lance sys­tem, which has been in op­er­a­tion since 1961, and trans­ferred con­trol to the Air Force in 2004. AFSSS is a series of three trans­mit­ters and six re­ceiv­ers along the 33rd par­al­lel, stretch­ing across the south­ern United States.

Space Com­mand said it has de­vised mod­i­fied op­er­at­ing modes for the Peri­met­er Ac­quis­i­tion Radar Char­ac­ter­iz­a­tion Sys­tem at Cava­lier Air Force Sta­tion, N.D., and for the space sur­veil­lance radar at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., al­low­ing the dis­con­tinu­ation of AFSSS op­er­a­tions while still main­tain­ing sol­id space situ­ation­al aware­ness.

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