Washington, D.C. (CBS Washington) — The Space Fence is coming.

Sounding like something straight out of a science fiction movie, the Space Fence is the U.S. Air Force’s next generation space surveillance system currently being developed by Lockheed Martin.

In a deal announced Friday, Lockheed Martin will build the S-band radar system under a $914 million firm-fixed price contract; a percentage of the $1.6 billion that the U.S. Air Force has spent to date on the Space Fence project.

A top priority of commander of Air Force Space Command Gen. William Shelton, the Space Fence has been in talks for years but was put on hold following budget constraints.  However, development will soon be underway on the project that is expected to monitor greater numbers of smaller objects than current U.S. space surveillance assets, according to Space.com.

“We know that we’ve got to get better at [space situational awareness] because of the debris problem, because of the threat problem,” Shelton told Space.com in February.

Debris circling the earth has become a growing issue for the U.S. and the U.S. Air Force plans on having the Space Fence help where past technology, such as the Air Force Space Surveillance System, has fallen short.

“We’ll get a very good sensor that will help us keep track in a much larger volume sense and a much better resolution sense of the traffic in low Earth orbit,” Shelton said in a November 2013 speech about the Space Fence.

The sensor that Shelton speaks about is one capable of tracking baseball-size objects as far out as 1,180 miles.  Using an extremely sensitive radar system, one more sensitive than any other in the past, the Space Fence system will be able to track objects without being told to do so.

The current AFSSS covers a span of almost 14,000 miles.

The new Space Fence system will almost double the coverage of the current AFSSS radars and have the capability of tracking about 200,000 objects and make 1.5 million observations per day; almost 10 times more objects than the current system in place.

All of this information will be sent to the Joint Space Operations Center, the central nerve system of the U.S.’ space operations.

While development may soon be underway, the radar site will not be initialized until November 2018 on the Kwajalein Atoll in the Pacific Ocean, while the system’s full capabilities won’t be reached until 2022.


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