The U.S. Air Force’s Space Situational Awareness (SSA) Systems program (formerly known as SPADATS) tracks and logs satellites and various orbital space debris. (Due to the amount of space junk up there – old satellites, spent rocket stages, etc., the orbits of the various pieces of debris must be taken into consideration prior to any space launch.) As an umbrella effort, this program has hosted a number of surveillance programs and projects that have been absorbed and discarded over the years. One such program is the SPACETRACK effort. The reborn SPACETRACK/SSA Systems program is virtually the heart and soul of the overall Space Situational Awareness Systems program.
Upgrade work continues to focus on the Space Situational Awareness command and control data fusion testbed, as well as the Space Fence project.
The Space Fence program aims to develop a system of ground-based sensors to replace the U.S. Air Force’s old Space Surveillance System very high-frequency radar, which has been operational since 1961. By using higher radio frequencies in conjunction with radar transmitters and receivers collocated at sites dispersed worldwide, the Space Fence will provide timely detection of smaller orbiting objects, primarily those in low-Earth orbit. As a result, it will expand the detection and tracking capacity of the Space Situational Awareness effort by an order of magnitude from 10,000 to 100,000 objects while working in conjunction with other networks. Space Fence is scheduled to reach Initial Operational Capability by the end of 2018.
An upcoming effort, to be started in FY17, is the Deep Space Advanced Radar Concept (DARC) project. DARC will mature the radar concepts and technologies being developed under ongoing projects to develop prototypes that demonstrate increased capability to detect, track and maintain custody of objects in deep space orbit.
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