Two Must Haves for Orbital Awareness

The Space Fence and a space-based space-surveillance system are essential components of the Air Force’s architecture for monitoring objects on orbit, said Gen. William Shelton, head of Air Force Space Command. Those “are two big capabilities that we think we absolutely have to have in the future,” Shelton told reporters last week at AFA’s Air & Space Conference just outside of Washington, D.C. He said an on-orbit system, such as the Boeing-Bell Aerospace SBSS satellite now in place and awaiting its operational acceptance, takes care of monitoring objects in deep space, while the future Space Fence, now eyed for initial operations in 2017, would observe objects in near-Earth orbits. “If you are looking for adversary action, perhaps hostile intent, those kinds of things, you’ve got to have [systems] that will go out and discover. That’s what SBSS and the fence are about in the two different regimes,” explained Shelton. He said, resources allowing, the Air Force “will plan to have at least one [space-based space-monitoring] satellite in orbit in perpetuity.” AFSPC is also looking to recover the two-year schedule slip in the Space Fence program, he noted.