The initial plans to upgrade the legacy Air Force Space Surveillance System were made in 2009. The USAF 850th Electronic Systems Group, Electronic Systems Center awarded three $30-million study contracts to Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and Raytheon on 11 June 2009.
The new Space Fence was envisioned to be a system of two or three S-band ground-based radars designed to perform uncued detection, tracking and accurate measurement of orbiting space objects, and was intended to replace the Air Force Space Surveillance System, or VHF Fence, that was transferred from the US Navy to the US Air Force in 2004. The shorter wavelength of the S-band Space Fence will allow for the detection of much smaller satellites and debris.
The February 10, 2009, collision of a U.S. Iridium communications satellite (Iridium 33) and a Russian Cosmos 2251 communications satellite, which added hundreds more pieces of debris to the atmosphere, highlighted the need for more precise tracking of space objects.
As of 2009[update], data collected from the new Space Fence's sensors was planned to feed into the Joint Space Operations Center Mission System, which is used to track objects orbiting the Earth, monitor space weather and assess foreign launches. Used by operators at the USAF 614th Air and Space Operations Center at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., the 614 AOC's 24-hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week support provides vigilance of global and theater operations and equips the Joint Functional Component Command for space operations with the tools to conduct command and control of space forces.
In 2014, Lockheed Martin awarded a contract for the Space Fence ground structures to General Dynamics. The ground structures include the receive array, cooling equipment, radomes and other buildings. The primary Space Fence system, procured by the Air Force will be located 2,100 nautical miles from Honolulu, Hawaii at the Kwajalein Atoll. The system is expected to begin service in 2018.
The Space Fence will use S-band radar and will track a larger number of small objects than previous space radars: "about 200,000 objects and make 1.5 million observations per day, about 10 times the number" made by existing or recently retired US assets.
As of November 2014[update], the USAF Strategic Command had "announced data-sharing agreements with at least seven countries and 44 companies, but [the details of] those agreements have [not] been made public" and it is unclear how much of the new Space Fence data will be shared.
Countries with space situational awareness data-sharing agreements in place with the USAF include Australia, Japan, Italy, Canada, France, the Republic of Korea and the United Kingdom. It also "has agreements with the European Space Agency and Europe’s Eumetsat weather satellite organization."
- Gruss, Mike (2014-11-21). "Haney: U.S. Partners To Have Indirect Access to Space Fence Data". Space News. Retrieved 2014-12-01.
- "GAO-15-342SP DEFENSE ACQUISITIONS Assessments of Selected Weapon Programs" (PDF). US Government Accountability Office. March 2015. p. 125. Retrieved 16 July 2015.
- Stephen Clark (2014-06-02). "Lockheed Martin wins contract for Space Fence". Spaceflight Now. Retrieved 2014-12-01.
- Morales, Monica D. (July 30, 2009). "Space Fence program awards contracts for concept development". USAF News. Archived from the original on March 4, 2016. Retrieved September 13, 2014.
- Iannotta, Becky (February 22, 2009). "U.S. Satellite Destroyed in Space Collision". Space.com. Archived from the original on 13 February 2009. Retrieved 2 November 2016.
- Ewalt, David M. (July 17, 2013). "Budget Cuts Threaten The Air Force's New 'Space Fence'". Forbes.com. Retrieved September 13, 2014.
- "Air Force Space Command to discontinue space surveillance system". US Air Force News. August 13, 2013. Retrieved September 13, 2014.