DoD Awards Two Space Fence Design Contracts
Raytheon [RTN] and Lockheed Martin [LMT] have each received a $107 million contract for preliminary design of a next- generation tracking radar that will monitor objects in space.
Under the terms of the Air Force deal, the companies are expected to complete preliminary design, performance analysis and prototype evaluation of a new Space Fence by next summer. All phases of the program are expected to cost up to $3.5 billion, according to budget documents, so a follow-on production contract could be worth upward of $3 billion. The Air Force plans to bring the system to operational capability by 2015.
The contractors submitted proposals for the project in November. Company executives at the time hailed competitive prototyping early in the development as a way of minimizing performance risk.
The United States operates a worldwide network of ground radars for space tracking, but the country’s ability to monitor objects orbiting over the Southern hemisphere is quite limited, according to experts. The legacy system is called the Air Force Space Surveillance System and comprises three Very High Frequency radar transmission sites and six receive sites spread across the southern United States. It has been in service since the early 1960s.
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In recent years, the lower orbits around Earth have become much more congested, and events like the 2009 collision of an Iridium communications satellite with a Russian satellite have resulted in more "space junk" on orbit that can be hazardous to satellites. The Air Force wants the new Space Fence to increase the number of objects it can track in low Earth orbit from around 20,000 objects today to 200,000 or more.
The air service has been studying options for replacing the VHF system for the past four years. In 2009, it awarded $30 million contracts to Lockheed Martin, Raytheon and Northrop Grumman [NOC] to conduct studies and prototyping.
Northrop Grumman’s contract was terminated early last year after Congress cut $30 million from the program’s funding in FY ’10. According to the Air Force, the program manager had recommended continuing with the planned schedule by stopping funding for one of the three contractors rather than spreading the cut across all three, and delaying the program by six months or more.
Meanwhile, the U.S. and Australian defense chiefs last fall signed a pact in Melbourne for cooperation on space situational awareness activities, which could include placing U.S. radars in Australia. The United States plans to deploy two or three radars as part of the Space Fence. While the legacy radar is located entirely inside the continental United States, the next-generation system will likely be located entirely outside the country. The goal is to increase coverage over the southern hemisphere.
In addition to Australia, the Pentagon is considering sites on the Kwajalein Atoll in the Pacific Ocean and Ascension Island in the Atlantic Ocean. A final decision is expected this year.