First cyberspace and now outer space.
Hanscom Air Force Base, by virtue of the surrounding intellectual capital and scientific industry, has long been a leader in cutting edge defense systems. Home to the Electronic Systems Center and a first line of defense against cyber warfare, Hanscom now has its sights set on the “final frontier.”
The local ties to the first-of-its kind Space Fence don’t stop there. One of the companies competing for to build the system is Waltham-based Raytheon, and engineers at MIT Lincoln Labs in Lexington and Mitre Corp in Bedford will assist Air Force officials in selecting the design, the Globe reported.
According to the Globe, about half a million pieces of man-made debris, such as disabled satellites and rocket parts, are orbiting close to Earth at about 17,000 miles per hour and pose a danger to space vehicles.
The Space Fence would use a radar network to detect smaller objects with greater accuracy than NASA and the Air Force Space Surveillance can currently catalog debris.
From Hanscom AFB’s news site:
Space Fence will be a system of up to two land-based radars, the first site located at Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands, to track objects entering Earth's orbit. According to program officials, it will form the foundation of improved space situational awareness by expanding the ability to detect, track, identify and characterize orbiting objects such as commercial and military satellites, smaller objects, maneuvering satellites, break-up events and lower inclination objects.
That report suggests the contract award could come sometime this spring, following the issuance of a request for proposals late last year.
Both the Globe and Hanscom’s news network report Raytheon and Maryland-based Lockheed Martin are vying for the contract to build the $3 billion Space Fence. According to current schedules, the Space Fence could be at least preliminarily operational by 2017.
While a Space Fence could improve safety and space situational awareness, it could provide some measure of stability on the local level, as well.
Last year, amid news of a Department of Defense plan for slashing defense spending and the specter of a Base Realignment and Closure Commission (BRAC), local, state and federal officials mobilized in defense of Hanscom and other Massachusetts military bases.
Lt. Gov. Tim Murray established a Military Assett and Security Strategy Task Force initiative in February 2012 and, subsequently state officials released a report indicating Massachusetts military bases contribute more than $13 billion annual to the state's economy.
In fiscal 2011, for instance, Hanscom AFB employed 3,628 military, Department of Defense and non-DoD civilians who earned more than $500 million in salaries and benefits, according ot the report, which noted the base also spent nearly $50 million on construction expenditures and almost $5.5. billion on research and development and acquisition activities.
How the Space Fence initiative would factor into the future of Hanscom AFB and its mission is unclear.
However, Hanscom News reported initial operational capability for Space Fence is anticipated in 2017 and full operational capability in 2020, and a defense electronics analyst reportedly told the Globe this "massive" program should be supported for decades.
“It is going to be pretty significant and receive significant financial support for decades in the future. It is a massive program,” C. Zachary Hofer, a defense electronics analyst at the Newton, Conn-based aerospace consulting firm Forecast International, told the Globe. “This has been a long time in the making. It is replacing a system that began service in 1961.”