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Sci-Tech

Air Force Space Fence passes debris test

It's another step in dealing with the problem of space junk.

Lockheed Martin Space Fence

Aerial view of Space Fence facility in Kwajalein Atoll.

Lockheed Martin

Space junk is just what it sounds like -- abandoned gear and shards of shattered equipment in orbit around Earth, adding up to more than 500,000 pieces of debris. And it's a problem: It can damage satellites orbiting the Earth and interfere with spacecraft launches.

A system designed to to track it all has passed its first test.

The US Air Force Space Fence, an elaborate ground-based radar network, detected debris from a Microsat-R destroyed by India as part of anti-satellite test in March, defense contractor Lockheed Martin said Wednesday. It then was able to determine the orbit of the remnants and predict when the space junk would pass through the fence again.

"The Indian test showcased Space Fence's capabilities in a real-world event," Col. Stephen Purdy, director of the Space Superiority System Directorate at Los Angeles Air Force Base, said in a release. "The system was able to quickly respond to a highly dynamic situation providing critical data."

The Space Fence system, located on the Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands, isn't yet an operational system. Testing started at the beginning of May.

Lockheed Martin began working on the Space Fence in June 2009.

The Space Fence will help detect space events before they happen and prevent threats to GPS satellites and the International Space Station. 

The U.S. Air Force and Lockheed Martin didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.