With four Geographically Separated Units (GSUs) bridging the international dateline, the 21st Space Operations Squadron is the first Air Force squadron to greet each day and last to bid it farewell. 21 SOPS is a unit of the 50th Network Operations Group, 50th Space Wing, Schriever Air Force Base, Colo., hosted as a tenant organization at Vandenberg AFB, Calif. The squadron operates the Ellison Onizuka Satellite Operations Facility (EOSOF) at Vandenberg AFB, continuing the legacy of Col. Ellison Onizuka, an Air Force astronaut aboard the Space Shuttle Challenger that exploded shortly after lift-off on Jan. 28, 1986. In addition to the EOSOF and its four worldwide detachments, the squadron also operates the Vandenberg Tracking Station (VTS).
21 SOPS protects, monitors, conducts and enables satellite and launch operations in support of national objectives.
21 SOPS conducts Air Force Satellite Control Network (AFSCN) operations, launch support as augmentation to the Western Range, manages Global Positioning System (GPS) ground infrastructure, provides AFSCN communications monitoring, provides satellite communications in support of the AFSCN and a small group of other users, and is the lead for 24/7 AFSCN cyber security scanning. 21 SOPS owns GSUs at Diego Garcia, (Det 1, call-sign REEF), Guam (Det 2, call-sign GUAM) and Oahu (Det 3, call-sign HULA). 21 SOPS has an operating location on Kwajalein Atoll, Republic of the Marshall Islands, which provides maintenance for a GPS ground antenna (GA) and monitoring station (MS). A GPS GA and MS are also co-located with Det 1 in Diego Garcia. An MS is collocated with Det 3 on Oahu. 21 SOPS inhabits two locations on or near Vandenberg AFB, CA. The Vandenberg Tracking Station (call-sign COOK) provides AFSCN remote tracking and Western Range launch infrastructure augmentation. The Ellison Onizuka Satellite Operations Facility (EOSOF) supports one of the two AFSCN operational control nodes, two medium earth satellite communication terminals, and the AFSCN Communications Control Center. 21 SOPS also maintains a back-up scheduling Network Operation Center for 22 SOPS as well as back-up satellite operations facilities for 2, 3 and 4 SOPS. The squadron also hosts the 148th Space Operations Squadron (California Air National Guard).
The birth of the National Security Space Enterprise was the Corona photo intelligence gathering satellite program. This program convinced the Air Force a dedicated unit was needed to provide satellite tracking. In April 1959, the 6594th Test Wing was activated with temporary headquarters in Palo Alto, Calif. In 1960, land was purchased in Sunnyvale, Calif. and the 6594th Test Wing relocated to form the Air Force Satellite Test Center. Construction on the "Blue Cube" was completed in 1968, and on Jan. 1, 1971, the Sunnyvale facilities became Sunnyvale Air Force Station. The installation was renamed Onizuka Air Force Station on July 24, 1986, in honor of Col. Ellison Onizuka, who lost his life in the Space Shuttle Challenger accident.
The 21st Space Operations Squadron rose out of this rich history. The squadron was activated on Oct. 1, 1991. After the 1995 Base Realignment and Closure committee directed realignment of Onizuka AFS, 21 SOPS absorbed the roles of the 750th Space Group and all subordinate units, to include the 5th Space Operations Squadron. In 2005, the BRAC committee directed Onizuka AFS to close not later than Sept.15, 2011. On July 29, 2010, the squadron relocated to Vandenberg AFB, gaining Detachment 1, Vandenberg Tracking Station, from the 22nd Space Operations Squadron. On Oct. 1, 2010, the 50th Network Operations Group reorganized and the squadron gained Diego Garcia Tracking Station, British Indian Ocean Territory; Guam Tracking Station, Andersen AFB, Guam; and Hawaii Tracking Station, Kaena Point, Hawaii.
On August 1, 2011, the Global Positioning System (GPS) Ground Antennas and Monitoring Stations were transitioned from the 2nd Space Operations Squadron (of the 50th Operations Group) to 21 and 23 SOPS (of the 50th Network Operations Group). As a result, 21 SOPS absorbed operations and maintenance responsibilities for GPS sites on Kwajalein Atoll, Diego Garcia, and Oahu.
In April, 2015, 21 SOPS launched a cyber defense pilot program resulting in the creation of dedicated AFSCN cyber protection forces and protocols. 21 SOPS inherited the role of 24/7 AFSCN network scanning to detect and report irregular network traffic for assessment and remediation.
(Current as of July, 2016)