While the current Space Fence surveillance system remains under orders to cease operations in October, the contract that was due to be awarded at any moment to either Raytheon or Lockheed Martin to build the new Space Fence has been postponed. That contract is now scheduled to be awarded in March 2014. As Space News‘ Mike Gruss reports:
According to an Aug. 15 memo, the Air Force now plans to award the full-scale development contract for its next-generation Space Fence in March 2014, more than a year later than previously planned. The service is also revising the funding profile for the project, which as of July 2012 carried an estimated price tag of $2.4 billion, according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office.
Just three days earlier, the Air Force said it expects to save about $14 million a year by shutting down the current space fence, formally known as the Air Force Space Surveillance System (AFSSS). Consisting of a line of very-high-frequency radars stretching across the southern United States, the AFSSS is a key component of the overall U.S. Space Surveillance Network, which includes other ground- and space-based sensor assets.
The delay underlines the uncertainty we face at a time when the major spacefaring nations are just beginning to take the threat of space debris seriously. The Space Fence provides a major component of the observations that provide our current – and inadequate – level of situational awareness. Space Fence is 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 while the new Space Fence is 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 about the potential impact of a suspended Space Fence here.