Months after sequestration cuts shut down the country's "Space Fence," the Air Force budget unveiled Tuesday preserves $2 billion to build a successor to the program that helps keep space vessels safe from high-speed orbital debris.
For the Air Force, keeping its new radar installations off the Pentagon's budget-cut chopping block was essential. The Space Fence is part of the Air Force's Space Surveillance Network, which tracks many of the roughly half-million pieces of debris that clog Earth's orbit.
At 17,000 miles per hour, even a marble-sized object could cause catastrophic damage to a spacecraft. And one collision can cause a debris field that leads to many more — a scenario demonstrated in the movie Gravity. The Space Fence helped decrease that risk. In 2012, the network helped satellite owners make 75 maneuvers to avoid collisions.
Last September, the Space Fence — responsible for 40 percent of the network's tracking — shut down. It had been in operation since 1961. The Air Force blamed the closing on "resource constraints caused by sequestration." While the first half of that release laments the loss of Space Fence's information, the last five paragraphs hype the newer, better Space Fence, calling it key to the Air Force's future tracking ability.