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Rivals Prepare Prototypes for Space Fence Competition

WASHINGTON — Lockheed Martin and Raytheon have developed and demonstrated working prototypes of a next-generation space surveillance radar network and are gearing up for the final phase of the U.S. Air Force competition to build the operational system.

A final Air Force request for proposals to build the new Space Fence is due out this summer, with selection of a prime contractor expected later in the year.

The long-delayed radar system is expected to track a far greater number of low Earth orbiting objects than the current VHF-band Space Fence, a line of radars deployed across the southern United States during the 1960s. The new S-band system, consisting of three radar sites deployed globally, is expected to be operational in 2017 at a cost of some $3.5 billion.

Lockheed Martin Mission Systems & Sensors of Washington and Raytheon Integrated Defense Systems of Tewksbury, Mass., each won $107 million contracts in January 2011 for design work on the Space Fence that will conclude this summer. Both companies built prototypes that successfully tracked objects in space to fulfill the requirements of a preliminary design review (PDR), which concluded in late February.

The Air Force’s 2013 budget request allocates $252.6 million for the Space Fence program. Budget justification documents show that funding line peaking at $321 million in 2014 and dropping back to $193 million the following year.

The hardware and software components for Lockheed Martin’s Space Fence prototype include transmit and receive antennas, digital beam-forming, a radar signal processor, a mission processor and a cooling system, according to Steve Bruce, vice president of Lockheed Martin’s Space Fence program. He declined to detail the capability of the Lockheed Martin prototype, which is currently located in Moorestown, N.J.

Raytheon’s prototype will also be used as a test bed but company executives do not want to disclose its location, said Scott Spence, the director of Raytheon’s Space Fence program.

The U.S. Air Force approved Lockheed Martin’s preliminary design for the Space Fence system Feb. 29.

Lockheed Martin still has to complete a number of “deliverables” before the PDR-phase contract runs out this summer, Bruce said. Company executives will review the requirements for the next phase of the Space Fence program and develop program plans, he said.

Spence said the successful demonstration of Raytheon’s prototype radar Jan. 4 was one of the most exciting milestones for the program. The hardware and software on the prototype are similar to what will be used for the final version but smaller in scale, he said.

Raytheon successfully concluded its detailed PDR for the program Feb. 23. The company expects a final assessment of its PDR in a few weeks, Spence said.

Spence also declined to comment on the capability of his company’s prototype.

“The important thing to note is that the Air Force wanted to do this demonstration to demonstrate the key technologies that are going to be used for the objective system,” Spence said during a March 7 telephone interview. “And so we met that criteria and we used those technologies in our prototype radar and that really gives the government a clear understanding of the technical maturity of the program going forward.”

 

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