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Lockheed Martin to build space-junk tracker

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Lockheed Martin edged out Raytheon for a $915-million contract to help the U.S. Air Force keep better tabs on dangerous debris in space, the Pentagon announced June 2.

The contract calls for a “Space Fence” ground-based radar to be built and up and running on Kwajalein Island in the Pacific by 2018.

The Air Force can now track items the size of a basketball; the new system will allow it to identify items as small as a softball. As a result, the radar is expected to allow the Air Force to see roughly 200,000 objects orbiting the Earth, or about 10 times what it can track now.

These objects include defunct satellites, depleted space boosters, and fragments from decaying, colliding or exploding spacecraft. Tracking such “space junk” is considered vital to protecting working satellites, the International Space Station and future manned space flights.

“When this system comes online, it will be a national and world asset,” said Steve Bruce, vice president for advanced systems at Lockheed Martin’s Mission Systems and Training business. “We will know a lot more about what’s in space than we do today.”

The contract contains an option that, if exercised, would call for construction of a second radar in western Australia. Bruce said the second radar, located north of Perth, would fill in “some gaps” and allow the Air Force to see objects “more often.”

Raytheon, which worked on a competing design for years, declined to say whether it would formally challenge the contract award.

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