The U.S. military will build a “Space Fence” by 2017, a $3.5-billion plan analysts have compared to a Hollywood movie script.
The Space Fence program began in the early 1960s as a series of radar signals tracking space debris from rockets and satellites. The U.S. military plans to upgrade the system because the 20,000 pieces of space-junk it currently tracks represent only ten percent of the man-made debris now orbiting the Earth.
According to a CNN report in October, an Air Force press release says the purpose of upgrading the Space Fence is to protect the thousands of functioning satellites, spacecrafts, and the International Space Station. With increased sensitivity, the new system will be able to track an object the size of a softball 1,200 miles above the Earth.
However, critics speculate that such a large undertaking is more about the militarization of space than the ability to detect space trash. Defense contractors Raytheon and Lockheed Martin are competing for the $3.5-billion contract to build two new state of the art radar tracking systems. However, as Mike Mount, CNN’s Senior National Security Producer stated in an October report, the massive project is proceeding though the military, and defense contractors acknowledge the technology does not yet exist to actually collect and dispose of the debris.