'Space Fence' aims to track the junk orbiting Earth

  • Updated: July 19, 2014 - 3:00 PM

“We’ll be able to identify items down to the size of a softball.” Manager Dana Whalley

Millions of objects are whizzing around Earth. Dead satellites. Spent rocket stages. Astronauts’ long-lost equipment. Now, the Air Force has awarded a $914.7 million contract to Lockheed Martin to develop a surveillance system, dubbed “Space Fence,” to enable the government to track objects as they circle the globe. At up to 17,500 mph, even a small piece of junk is a menace to the International Space Station and satellites that are fundamental to our modern way of life. “Previously, the Air Force could only track and identify items the size of a basketball,” said Dana Whalley, the government’s program manager. “With the new system, we’ll be able to identify items down to the size of a softball.” Researchers have cataloged more than 23,000 items that are bigger than a basketball. NASA estimates there are millions of pieces of debris so small that they can’t be tracked. William Welser, researcher at RAND Corp., said, “We need to understand what’s going on in those areas and assess the risk. [The Space Fence] It’s the first step.” LOS ANGELES TIMES

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