HUNTSVILLE, Alabama -- Earth's last frontier will soon have its very own Space Fence.
Air Force, Army and industry leaders came together during a ribbon cutting ceremony at the new Air Force Space Fence Operations Center located at the Reagan Test Site Operations Center-Huntsville, or ROC-H, facility in Huntsville Nov. 15.

During the ceremony there was a Space Fence program overview, remarks from Air Force and Lockheed Martin program leads, Space Fence videos, a demonstration of visualization and operator consoles, a site model, and the ribbon cutting itself.

"Standing up the Space Fence Operations Center here in Huntsville is an important milestone in the program," said Bruce Schafhauser, Lockheed Martin Space Fence program manager. "This is really the command node for the Space Fence sensor and operations will be conducted here and this is an important node on the space surveillance network. We have put a lot of time and effort into getting the user interface right and the automation in the system is such that the operators won't be overwhelmed by the plethora of the data that can come off the sensor.

"Space Fence is an incredibly important program to not only our nation because of the growing congestion in space, but also the proliferation of low-cost constellations of satellites and others that continue to fill up space," he added. "It is important because of what Space Fence brings to the Warfighter in terms of its ability to provide them with data. Space is no longer the sanctuary it once was and it is the ultimate high-ground. Ultimately we have to protect those assets we depend on, both in the commercial world and militarily."

The Space Fence will use S-band ground-based radars to provide the Air Force with detection, tracking and accurate measurement of space objects in orbit. The locations and higher wave frequency of the new Space Fence radars will permit the detection of much smaller microsatellites and debris than current systems. The new system's initial operational capability is scheduled for 2018.

Additionally, Lockheed Martin's Space Fence design will significantly improve the timeliness with which operators can detect space events, which could present potential threats to GPS satellites or the International Space Station. The flexibility and sensitivity of the system will provide coverage of deep space geosynchronous orbits while maintaining the surveillance fence.

In 2014, the U.S. Air Force awarded a $914 million contract to develop the Space Fence system and began construction on the Ronald Reagan Ballistic Missile Defense Test Site located 2,300 miles southwest of Hawaii in the U.S. Army Garrison-Kwajalein Atoll, Republic of the Marshall Islands.

The Space Fence's S-band radar will be located on Kwajalein Atoll and the Space Fence Operations Center will be located at ROC-H, which is a command and control facility of the U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command/Army Forces Strategic Command.

With America and its allies dependent on space assets for both military and commercial applications, Space Object Identification and tracking capability enhance Space Situational Awareness and support improved protection of space assets.

The current Air Force Space Surveillance Network can currently track approximately 23,000 space objects, including satellites and orbital debris. When operational, the Space Fence will be able to track upwards of 200,000 objects.

According to Schafhauser, Space Fence will be able to track objects as small as a peanut M&M in low-earth orbit.

"Today is a great show of the progress and the Space Fence Operations Center will enable us to monitor space situational awareness," said Air Force Lt. Col. Brian McMenamy, deputy program manager, Space Fence Program Office. "We are very excited. This is one of the critical pieces we need to move into our initial operational capability so by having this operational center set up and ready to go, we are just waiting on our site sensor to be operational. Once we put the two together, start communicating and meet our IOC capability, we will be able meet our ultimate goal and transfer that knowledge to the Warfighter."