General William Shelton, commander of Air Force Space Command has ordered the closure of  all Air Force Space Surveillance programs and sites effective October 1, 2013. The order was issued via memo on August 1 as a response to sequestration-related budget constraints. As reported by Space News:

The Space Fence, along with operators at the Joint Space Operations Center, can observe objects down to the size of a basketball and make precise determinations of their characteristics, location and movement. Each month the system is responsible for logging more than 5 million satellite observations, according to an Air Force fact sheet.

“The Space Fence is very important as it gives an ‘uncued tracking’ capability,” [Secure World Foundation’s Brian] Weeden said. “Because it’s constantly transmitting, it can detect objects without being tasked to do so. There are some other sensors in the network that can do uncued tracking to some degree, but the Space Fence is rather unique in the sheer size of the detection coverage it has.”

The contract award for an upgrade to the Space Fence has not been cancelled, but is being held up pending Pentagon review. Implementation of the closure order and cancellation of the upgrade could have extreme ramifications for an orbital environment that is plagued by increasing clouds of debris. Dire consequences were already in the offing with continuation of current levels of surveillance; reducing surveillance capabilities even further can only be described as catastrophically irresponsible.

Share your thoughts: is Space Fence closure what it seems or just political maneuvering? What can we expect if it goes through?


About the author

Merryl Azriel

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Having wandered into professional writing and editing after a decade in engineering, science, and management, Merryl now enjoys reintegrating the dichotomy by bringing space technology and policy within reach of an interested public. After three years as Space Safety Magazine’s Managing Editor, Merryl semi-retired to Visiting Contributor and manager of the campaign to bring the International Space Station collaboration to the attention of the Nobel Peace Prize committee. She keeps her pencil sharp as Proposal Manager for U.S. government contractor CSRA.

2 Responses

  1. Matteo Emanuelli

    This is huge! I think now the European Commission will push forward the project to build a surveillance network in Europe.

  2. jumpjack

    What a bad moment to stop space debris surveillance!! Shouldn’t Chelyabinsk event have raised consciousness of how such systems are strongly needed?!?

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