Here’s a bit of reassurance regarding that pesky problem with spreading space junk: A South Jersey facility operated by Lockheed Martin is testing a cutting-edge new system to monitor the stuff.
Officials have been increasingly worried that cast-off metal and other remnants of older satellites and sundry other space technology pose a threat to mega-pricey active satellites — not to mention the multinational crew of the International Space Station.
So it was a welcome development indeed when a miniature version of the new Space Fence monitoring system — created for testing purposes at a site in Moorestown, N.J. — recently recorded its first track of a satellite.
“First track is major milestone for us and represents that we have a functioning radar,” said Bruce Schafhauser, Space Fence program director for Lockheed Martin.
“The first track and the new test facility means we are one step closer to delivering a dramatic tenfold improvement in space situational awareness and orbital monitoring capability.”
To underscore the magnitude of the concern on the issue of space junk, consider that ISS crew have conducted more than two dozen avoidance maneuvers to avoid hitting flying debris. In fact, space junk traveling an estimated 8 miles a second passed the space station four times last year.
Lockheed Martin engineers and U.S. Air Force personnel are testing and training on the scaled-down version of the system in Moorestown. The actual Space Fence system is under construction at an Air Force facility in the Marshall Islands, some 2,100 miles southwest of Honolulu.
The military and commercial test crews in New Jersey are working to ensure that the Space Fence system can detect, track and catalog orbital objects in a comprehensive effort to prevent of collisions in space.
“Our strong partnership with the Air Force leads to learning and discovery on both sides,” Schafhauser said. “The collaboration in the Moorestown facility drives great efficiencies before the installation and test commences on island.”
Space Fence will replace the existing Air Force Space Surveillance System, or VHF Fence, which has been in service since the 1960s.
The new system uses scalable solid-state S-band radar capable of detecting much smaller objects than the current system. Space Fence’s accuracy and its constant surveillance is expected to greatly rein in the threat of mishaops from space junk.
The Space Fence system is slated to go operational in 2017. The New Jersey test facility will remain in place into 2018.