Air Force shuts down ‘Space Fence’ surveillance system

By on August 14, 2013

Federal budget cuts are compelling the US Air Force to shut down its space surveillance system, which detects and tracks objects and satellites orbiting the Earth, but costs the agency $14 million a year.

The Air Force on Monday announced its plan to shut down the surveillance system by October 1, citing the sequestration as the cause. The Air Force operated the surveillance system under contract, and the agency has notified the vendor, Five River Services in Colorado Springs, Colo., that it will probably not be renewing its options after the fiscal year ends on Oct. 1.

“This is your notice to begin preparing the sites for closure,” said a memo received by the vendor, which was obtained by Space News. “…A specific date to turn off the mission system has not been established yet, but will be provided to you immediately upon determination.” 

By deactivating the surveillance system, the Air Force Space Command will save $14 million a year, but it will no longer be able to track objects or debris that come into Earth’s orbit, or provide information to predict collisions.

The surveillance system, also known as the “Space Fence” due to its vertical transmission of a “fence” of radar energy that can deter any objects from crossing it, has been in operation since 1961 and is outdated, Commander of the Air Force Space Command General William Shelton said in a news release. Rather than spend any more money on old technology, the Air Force will disable it and instead work on a new system that can more precisely locate objects orbiting the Earth.

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