There's a lot of space debris caught within the Earth's orbit. This includes everything from dead satellites to rocket parts, and when two pieces of debris collide, it can break up into even more, even smaller pieces of space trash.
We've seen a few concepts for to deal with all this junk, including recycling the dead satellites or capturing them with a giant net, but we are practically blind as to where all this space trash is going. We covered Lockheed Martin's plans to track space junk in the past, but the company just activated its prototype radar system that can monitor our entire sky and track more than 200,000 objects in orbit.
Lockheed's ground-based radar system can detect any space object that's larger than 0.8 inches across. So far the system has detected over 20,000 objects. The radar also catalogs, tracks, and predicts the course of each piece of space debris.
The radar incorporates the Solid-State S-band, which pings at a higher wavelength frequency than the VHF band used by the Air Force Space Surveillance System. Lockheed's radar allows them to detect much smaller - and many more - objects in space than other systems. The eventual goal of the Space Fence project is to replace the Air Force's aging system that has been in place since 1961.
The scientists say the system could dramatically improve our "space situational awareness." The prototype radar would also prove to be extremely useful in protecting the International Space Station and our other working satellites from collisions long before they even happen.
Both Lockheed Martin and Raytheon are currently competing to win a contract from the US Air Force for the Space Fence Project. The Air Force hopes to award the final production contract within the year, and expects to have the first Space Fence site operational by 2017.
Personally, I'm hoping they discover hidden alien probes or spaceships out there...