Design and construction of the Navy's "Fence" was begun by the Naval Research Laboratory in 1958. By February 1959, a network of six antenna sites stretching across the southern United States from Georgia to California was operational around the clock. Signals recorded at the sites as space objects passed through the high-energy radar were transmitted to the former Naval Ordnance Laboratory at Dahlgren. There, some of DoD's largest computers of that time calculated orbit predictions.Photos furnished by Bill Adams who had worked at the Alabama and Texas sites.
On Feb. 1, 1961, NAVSPASUR was established at Dahlgren as the Navy's first operational space command after Navy leadership recognized that the service had a particular need for a space detection system to provide the Fleet with operational data on orbiting satellites.
By mid-1965, the system had reached its current configuration of nine field stations with three transmitter sites at Lake Kickapoo, Texas, Jordan Lake, Ala., and Gila River, Ariz., and six receiver sites at Fort Stewart, Ga., Hawkinsville, Ga., Silver Lake, Miss., Red River, Ark., Elephant Butte, N.M., and San Diego, Calif.
The Naval Space Surveillance System field stations comprise a bi-static radar that points straight up into space and produces a "fence" of electromagnetic energy. The system can detect basketball-sized objects in orbit around the Earth out to an effective range of 15,000 nautical miles. Over 5 million satellite detections, or observations, are collected by the surveillance sensor each month.
Data collected by the Fence is transmitted to a computer center at Dahlgren, where it is used to constantly update a database of spacecraft orbital elements. This information is reported to the fleet and Fleet Marine Forces to alert them when particular satellites of interest are overhead.
The Navy's space surveillance system is one of about 20 sensors that together comprise the nation's worldwide Space Surveillance Network directed by U.S. Strategic Command in Omaha, Neb.
The Navy transferred operation of the former Naval Space Surveillance System, the nation's oldest sensor built to track satellites and debris in orbit around the Earth, to the Air Force during formal ceremonies October 1, 2004.
BFEC operated this system for the Navy from 1958 to 1968.
Below are recent photos of the system under the USAF
Entrance to the Air Force Site
Looking at the site after entrance
Antenna viewed from the building
Four RF Modules & Two Power Supplies