Lockheed Martin [LMT] has completed the critical design review (CDR) for the Air Force’s Space Fence, which the company said demonstrates the program is technically mature and that all requirements will be met.
The three-day CDR was preceded by the delivery of 21,000 pages of design documents and an eight-day design walkthrough to ensure the system will meet performance requirements, according to a company statement. The CDR event featured the demonstration of a small-scale system built with end-item components that detected and tracked orbiting space objects.
Space Fence is a S-band radar system that will detect, track and catalog orbital objects in space more than 1.5 million times a day to predict and prevent space-based collisions. The first Space Fence radar will be located on Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands while a second radar site, contingent on Air Force funding, is slated for Australia.
The program is approaching a major milestone in February where an integrated test bed (ITB) will become operational and perform its “first track,” Lockheed Martin Vice President for Advanced Systems Steve Bruce told reporters Thursday. The ITB, he said, is a smaller version of the Space Fence radar, but larger than the radar used during preliminary design review (PDR) and with more capability, allowing it to see smaller objects further away than the PDR test bed.
Bruce said the ITB, as part of first track, will prove that it can transmit, receive and process energy. Lockheed Martin is in the process of completing the ITB, Bruce said. It will also be used to perform further verification of system performance, including verifying all of the electrical and mechanical interfaces, before it is used on Kwajalein.
Bruce said Lockheed Martin is ramping up production in the radar mission system area, where it has gone through a series of small builds in various factories. This, he said, is to prove that not only does the design work, but that it is manufacturable and can achieve the throughput necessary. Bruce said another “big piece” being performed is the second major demonstration of software development.
Lockheed Martin is busy building facilities on Kwajalein. Bruce said the company is focusing on building the sensor site by completely excavating the ground where it will be located. The program is pouring concrete for the transmit array and receive array walls, which Bruce said will eventually hold the fabric radome. Bruce said concrete pouring for the array walls should be completed within the next few weeks and once the program gets through some of the concrete pours for the sensor site, it will turn its focus to the power plan, of which it has started excavation.
Though the Air Force, ideally, wants a second radar to provide full operational capability (FOC) for Space Fence, Bruce said the program will be plenty of capable with just one radar. He said the first radar at Kwajalein will provide about 80 percent of the overall system capability. The second radar in Australia would provide a capability called timeliness, which Bruce said was how often an object is observed. Timeliness, he said, would not only improve accuracy but would be used to detect maneuvers much more quickly than just the first radar on Kwajalein. It would also provide redundancy to the system, he said.
Within the Space Fence radar open architecture design, Lockheed Martin is using the latest monolithic microwave integrated circuit technology, including Gallium Nitride (GaN) semiconductor material. GaN provides a number of significant advantages for active phased array radar systems, including higher power density, greater efficiency and significantly improved reliability over previous technologies.
Space Fence initial operational capability (IOC) is slated for late 2018.