Last month the U.S. Air Force announced that a $1.7 billion satellite was orbiting in the wrong orbit. During the 2011 mission to safely guide the satellite into the correct orbit, the Air Force was required to move the satellite at least three times to miss space debris. While this mission was a success, nearly 1500 near misses between space debris occur daily, and without the appropriate level of space situational awareness, the next satellite may not fair so well.
According to NASA, there are more than 21,000 pieces of debris larger than 10 cm that are known to exist. The existing space surveillance system tracks about 20,000 of those objects. The technical capability for the system to track smaller objects is limited so the exact amount of space debris that exists is unknown. With hundreds of valuable military and commercial satellites orbiting in space, and more than 100 more satellites expected to be launched within the next decade by the U.S. alone, there is a compelling need for a new, more advanced system to provide greater situational awareness in space.
Raytheons Space Fence solution will provide the U.S. Air Force with enhanced space surveillance capability to track and detect resident space objects. When Space Fence reaches initial operating capability in 2017, the amount of debris that can be tracked will jump to nearly 200,000. This increase is due to the advanced radar technology that allows the Air Force to detect much smaller objects at greater distances and with much more certainty than the existing system.
In January, Raytheons prototype detected and tracked Resident Space Objects. The Space Fence team also demonstrated the technical maturity of all program components as part of a comprehensive preliminary design review conducted by the Air Force. Later this year, Raytheon will compete for the final contract award to design and manufacture Space Fence.
To read more about Space Fence and the problem space debris poses to modern day life visit www.raytheon.com/spacefence.