The Space Fence program is on track and is expected to reach initial operating capability in 2018, Lockheed Martin and Air Force officials said Monday. The amount of objects the Air Force tracks in space is expected to jump from about 24,000 to between 100,000 and 200,000—some as small as a marble—when the system is activated, Lockheed Martin’s program manager, Bruce Schafhauser said Monday while providing a tour of Lockheed’s operational test site in Moorestown, N.J.. Air Force program manager Dana Whalley said the service needs the capability the S-band ground-based radar will provide. “We’re not replacing a system that does the same thing that we do,” Whalley said. “It’s a real game changer.” The facility that will house the ground-based orbital tracking radar on the Kwajalein Atoll in the Pacific Ocean has been under construction since March 2015 and is expected to be finished next summer. “It’s a major undertaking, in terms of construction, on this remote island,” Schafhauser said. Lockheed will begin shipping the radar components to the island this fall. In the meantime, Lockheed has been testing the system’s radar components and software at the Moorestown site—a scaled down version of the end-item system that is about three percent of the size of the final array—and first tracked an object in January. “They’ve captured hundreds of lessons learned that they’re going to apply to Kwajalein,” Whalley said. The test site, which cost Lockheed about $10 million, “has been worth its weight in gold” Schafhauser said. “Just putting something together for the first time, it helps you in terms of sequencing,” he said. Bruce Fredericks, Lockheed’s radar lead, said Lockheed has even learned how to better package hardware so it can be easily installed at the real site. “[We] can’t pat ourselves on the back yet, we’ve probably got one more real tough year ahead of us,” Whalley said. “But a year from now, we’re going to have that radar up and running, and it won’t have been fully tested, but we’re going to be able to have a lot confidence a year from now that this is exactly what the Air Force spent a billion dollars on.” (See also: Keeping the Focus on Space Junk.)
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