Deactivated Space Fence may put cell phones, GPS communication at risk

Air Force blames sequester, faltering funding for shut down

By Erik von Ancken - Anchor/Reporter

ORLANDO, fLA. - The United States Air Force says it can no longer afford to operate the so-called "Space Fence" that detects space junk, and protects satellites.

Without satellites, you couldn't use your phone, check the weather, or even watch this story on your TV.          

The official name for the space fence is the Space Surveillance System, a network of radars and sensors that track thousands of pieces of debris, as small as softballs, spinning around the earth at more than 15-thousand miles an hour.      

In just six weeks, the tracking system is expected to be shut down.

An Air Force spokesman says it has to be because of the sequester to save 14 million dollars.

The backup plan? Rely on two Air Force base radar sites on opposite ends of the country, one of them in Florida's panhandle.

Local 6 went to the Orlando Science Center to view the 3D documentary ‘Space Junk' to put this in perspective.

"I need to keep track of my 3 teenagers, and we use cell phones to communicate, because I'm the main driver in the family," said Julie Oegama, a mother of three, after she watched the film.

Her daughter Holly agreed saying, "We depend highly upon them for communications, internet, TV, which I didn't realize before. That could all go down and into chaos."

After watching the documentary, the Oegamas, especially the teenagers, now understand what losing a satellite to a space junk collision, means for them.

The Air Force insists there will not be chaos, and issued this statement, as only the military could say it, "The backup system *will maintain* solid space situational awareness."

Bottom line, the space fence will only be turned off but not torn down... until congress decides what do to with it.

The Air Force also says the space fence is outdated, and they'd like to hire a contractor to build a brand new, better one using, ironically, more satellites and not radar this time.

But that decision is also being held up, by budget issues.     

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