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Air Force General William Shelton, commander of Air Force Space Command, has indicated that the stop gap measures in place since the Air Force Surveillance System known as Space Fence was deactivated on September 1 are working well, according to a report in Space News.

“Since we closed the Fence on the 1st of September, all of our predictions — and these are very early returns, I will admit that — but all of our predictions seem to be right on track,” Shelton said.

The changes implemented by Space Command included switching to modified operating modes for some of its other space tracking assets, specifically the Perimeter Acquisition Radar Characterization System at Cavalier Air Force Station in North Dakota and the space surveillance radar at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida.

Because of these changes, Shelton said, the Air Force has retained certain tracking capabilities that were thought to be unique to the AFSSS.

The Space Fence provided a major component of the observations that provide space situational awareness. Space Fence was the only monitoring system able to pick up uncued debris which may have resulted from unanticipated on-orbit collisions.

Suspending Space Fence now leaves a five year gap until a new Space Fence is tentatively scheduled to be built. At this time, it is not yet known whether full funding will be provided for the new initiative – those details will come out in the revised request for proposal due in November. Congress had been looking to reduce funding by about 10%.

Read more of Shelton’s comments here.

Image caption: A stretch of detectors in the now-deactivated Air Force Space Surveillance System (AFSSS) (Credits: USAF/Five Rivers Services).

  • This story is mostly notable for what it leaves out, sadly.

    I am a 28 year veteran of the US air Force and a former orbital analyst (in what became the JSpOC). I worked with the old Naval space surveillance system (navspasur) before it transferred to the Air force. I was stationed at a bmews radar station for a year and worked on the operations crew. I was an augmentee on an inspection team to the Eglin radar. So I have a good background to evaluate the capabilities of these radars and the needs for radar observations.

    PARCS is a wonderful, high frequency, radar. but it is pointed to the north and so it has very limited azimuths that it can cover. Objects that it tracks must be very high inclination though it can track lots of small objects. it was built as a part of the Safeguard Anti-Ballistic Missile system.

    Eglin (site C6) is also a wonderful radar and I have watched the crew operate it. That was designed to detect Sea Launched missiles and anything from Cuba, it is pointed south and has limited azimuths that it can track in. Now, it is ideal for tracking some low inclination objects. It is a higher frequency radar than the AFSSS was.

    Together they have far less capability than the AFSSS – it had a broad view of space overhead. Unfortunately it was a low frequency radar and so that limited it to tracking larger objects.

    Gen Shelton is a supporter of the AFSSS and realizes it’s utility, but they decided to shut dow AFSSS instead of pulling money from some other system. Now that they will realize that they can live without it, how will they ever get the money to replace the Space Fence? I think that it is permanently gone.

    The story should have compared the Fence to the Parcs and Eglin radars to give us some perspective on how they compare to AFSSS.

    • Merryl Azriel

      Great point, Charles. Thanks for giving us some perspective.