The U.S. Space Force is a relatively young arm of the U.S. armed forces, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t already operating assets. The USSF announced late last week that its Space Fence radar system is now officially operational, for instance. First: Yes, it is actually called that. Second, the Space Fence is actually a radar system that aims to provide advanced tracking of on-orbit objects, including, but not limited to, commercial and military satellites.
The Space Fence ground infrastructure is located in the Marshall Islands, and currently is in the “initial operational capability and operational acceptance” phase. The program will track the existing 26,000 orbital objects already accounted for in the existing Space Surveillance Network (SSN), but Space Force said via an update on the new operational phase that it expects to grow that list quickly with its own additions.
To support detailed tracking of objects in this orbital range, the radar observation technology developed by Lockheed Martin on behalf of Space Force can pick up items roughly the size of a marble in low Earth orbit. With that level of fine-grained observational power, it seems pretty likely that eventually the catalog should contain just about every active and passive potential observation, communication and potentially militarized in-space assets operated by just about anyone.
Knowing the terrain is a key part of any military operation’s ability to succeed, so officially bringing the Space Fence online marks a big milestone for the Space Force. It also recently launched its first dedicated payload: A high-frequency secure communication satellite to join an existing constellation in space that provides communication services for military operations on Earth, on land, at sea and in the air.