The US Air Force’s (USAF) 21st Space Wing is preparing to deactivate the Air Force Space Surveillance System (AFSSS) designed to track satellites and other orbiting objects, due to budget constraints caused by sequestration.
Scheduled to shut down by 1 October, the system’s equipment will not be removed until a final disposition decision is made by the Air Force Space Command (AFSPC).
The deactivation of AFSSS sites that are operated under contract by Five Rivers Services is expected to bring the air force approximately $14m in savings a year, starting in 2014.
Modified operating modes for the perimetre acquisition radar characterisation system at Cavalier Air Force Station in North Dakota, and space surveillance radar at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida, have been devised by AFSPC to facilitate AFSSS deactivation, while still maintaining solid space situational awareness.
Nicknamed Space Fence, the AFSSS is a part of AFSPC’s global Space Surveillance Network, and transmits a vertical fence of radar energy into space for detection of all objects intersecting that fence in an un-cued fashion, instead of tracking objects based on previous information.
Operational since 1961, the system comprises a series of three transmitter sites at Jordan Lake in Alaska, Lake Kickapoo, Texas and Gila River in Arizona, as well as six receiving stations at Tattnall and Hawkinsville in Georgia, Silver Lake in Mississippi, Red River in Arkansas, Elephant Butte, New Mexico and San Diego in California, US.
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Air Force Space Command commander general William Shelton said a new space fence radar is planned for Kwajalein Island in the Republic of the Marshall Islands, for delivery of accurate positional data on orbiting objects.
”When combined with the new Joint Space Operations Center’s high-performance computing environment, the new fence will truly represent a quantum leap forward in space situational awareness for the nation,” Shelton said.
Enabling detection and tracking of very small orbiting objects in space due to greater sensitivity than AFSSS, the new un-cued space fence tracking system will also offer evidence of satellite break-ups, collisions or unexpected manoeuvres of satellites.
Image: A section of the AFSSS master transmitter antenna at Lake Kickapoo in Texas, US. Photo: courtesy of Dual Freq.