U.S. Space Force (USSF) said that it is looking beyond its Space Fence radar to improve significantly the real-time tracking of objects in space.

“The Space Fence radar performs well and meets the requirements for which it was designed,” per USSF.  “However, the Space Domain Awareness (SDA) mission is becoming more complex and challenging as the environment evolves. Increased congestion, contention, and competition in space drive the need for faster revisit rates, higher capacity requirements, increased sensitivity, and increased resilience the Space Fence radar cannot provide alone.”

A space-based tracking system of commercial, optical sensor satellites could help provide near-synoptic, simultaneous coverage of all orbits.

The primary ground-based space tracking system is to be the $1.6 billion Space Fence radar system by Lockheed Martin [LMT]. Located on Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands, the solid-state S-band radar system achieved initial operational capability on March 27 last year.

USSF and the National Reconnaissance Office have been working on a SILENTBARKER program to field space-based sensors to improve the U.S. Space Surveillance Network (SSN). Better space situational awareness may provide insights on the intent of potential U.S. adversaries in space and may help deter such adversaries.

“Surveillance from space augments and overcomes existing ground sensor limitations with timely 24-hour above-the-weather collection of satellite metric data only possible with a space-based sensor and then communicates its findings to the Combined Space Operations Center (CSpOC), National Space Defense Center, and other classified users,” according to U.S. Air Force budget documents.

To meet USSF’s requirement for faster revisit rates, higher capacity requirements, increased sensitivity, and increased resilience, the service said that it “is acquiring new sensors, and increasing the capability of existing sensors, while laying the foundation to exploit data for foundational SDA activities.”

“Future SDA sensors include SILENTBARKER and Deep Space Advanced Radar Capability (DARC),” per USSF. “The Ground-Based Optical Sensor System (GBOSS) effort is an upgrade to the existing Ground-Based Electro-Optical Deep Space Surveillance (GEODSS) system. SDA is an inherently data-centric problem requiring both access to data and the ability to exploit data. The USSF intends to collaborate with commercial and coalition partners in order to expand access to SDA data.”

Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory has been working on DARC, and a subsequent contract may come this summer. Pentagon budget plans have called for more than $141 million for DARC in fiscal 2022 and more than $200 million through 2025.

A ground based sensor, DARC is to provide better tracking of foreign and domestic deep space objects in GEO.

Last September, L3Harris Technologies [LHX] received a $119.2 million contract for upgrades and procurement of 15 GEODSS sensor towers, building ground-based optical sensors in the Pacific and European regions and providing additional enclosure for the system installed at White Sands Missile Range. DoD budget plans have called for nearly $52 million for GBOSS in fiscal 2022.

“The challenge to developing and deploying SDA sensors is ensuring the appropriate balance of affordability and performance to meet requirements,” per Space Force. “The space domain is more than 400 times larger than the combination of air, land, and sea domains; no single sensor is able to fully service all orbital regimes or any single orbital regime fully.”

By 2025, Russia and China will have anti-satellite (ASAT) capabilities that will threaten satellites in all orbital regimes, Lt. Gen. Nina Armagno, director of staff for USSF, said last week. (Defense Daily, March 11).

Established on Dec. 20, 2019, the Space Force has as its primary mission to protect U.S. military and commercial space assets, to deter conflicts from starting or extending into space, and to sustain U.S. capabilities that rely on space.

Armagno said last week that a USSF effort to put a space domain awareness sensor on the Japanese Quasi-Zenith Satellite System, sometimes referred to as the “Japanese GPS,” is “going very well.”

Defensive capabilities the USSF is pursuing include propulsion to allow satellites to avoid collisions and contact with other space objects and on-board early warning of threats, Armagno said.