US ignored rising-sea warnings at radar site

The so-called Space Fence is being constructed on a tiny atoll in the Marshall Islands that scientists say could be regularly swamped by rising seas within a couple of decades.

Wellington | Published: October 18, 2016 12:13 pm
This Aug. 8, 2015 photo suppled by U.S. Army show an aerial view of Kwajalein Atoll, where a Space Fence complex is being in the Marshall Islands. The US military ignored warnings about rising seas to build a space radar costing nearly a billion dollars on a tiny atoll in the Marshall Islands. The Space Fence system is considered vital for keeping astronauts and satellites safe by tracking space junk as small as a baseball.(Photo/U.S. Army via AP) This Aug. 8, 2015 photo suppled by U.S. Army show an aerial view of Kwajalein Atoll, where a Space Fence complex is being in the Marshall Islands. (Photo/U.S. Army via AP)

The US Air Force is spending nearly $1 billion to build a radar installation in the Pacific that will help keep astronauts and satellites safe by tracking pieces of space junk as small as a baseball. That is, if global warming doesn’t get in the way. The so-called Space Fence is being constructed on a iny atoll in the Marshall Islands that scientists say could be regularly swamped by rising seas within a couple of decades. The scientists say the salt water could play havoc with the equipment.

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And The Associated Press found that neither the military nor its contractor, Lockheed Martin, gave serious consideration to that threat.

Dana Whalley, a civilian who is managing the Space Fence program, says that the radar installation has a projected lifespan of 25 years and that he doesn’t expect the sea to rise enough over that period to cause a problem. And if it does, he says, the base could take steps to improve its seawalls.

Still, because of budget pressures, military equipment is often used well beyond its projected lifespan.

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