The 3rd Space Operations Squadron is a component of the 50th Operations Group, 50th Space Wing, Schriever Air Force Base, Colo. The squadron was activated at Schriever on Feb. 2, 1990.
The 3 SOPS conducts on-orbit operations for the Defense Satellite Communications System III and Wideband Global SATCOM satellites for the Department of Defense.
The mission of 3 SOPS is to ensure reliable space-borne communications to national authorities, U.S. and Allied forces. The mission is accomplished by conducting on-orbit operations for the Defense Satellite Communications System Phase III and Wideband Global Satellite Communications satellites. DSCS III and WGS provide secure high-rate data communications links to the President, Secretary of Defense, theater commanders and strategic and tactical forces worldwide.
The squadron was first activated June 10, 1941, as the 3rd Photographic Squadron. During the first half of World War II, the squadron conducted airborne mapping operations of the U.S., West Indies, South America, Canada and the famous "Hump" region in Asia. On May 19, 1944, the unit was re-designated the 3rd Photographic Reconnaissance Squadron and began training for aerial reconnaissance operations using highly modified B-29 Superfortress.
On Oct. 31, 1944, a 3 PRS F-13 became the first American aircraft over Tokyo since the famed Doolittle Raid in 1942. By the end of the war, 3 PRS had flown 460 combat missions mainly over Japan.
In 1985, the initial cadre of Air Force NATO III and DSCS II satellite operators received training at Sunnyvale Air Force Station, Calif. These personnel relocated to Falcon AFS, Colo., in 1987 and became Operating Location-AB, Consolidated Space Test Center. These men and women became the nucleus of what would eventually become 3 SOPS. On Aug. 2, 1988, OL-AB began 24-hour operations at Falcon AFS. By May 1989, OL-AB was conducting station-keeping maneuvers on NATO III and DSCS II satellites. On Feb. 2, 1990, OL-AB was inactivated with the personnel and mission transferring to the newly activated 3rd Satellite Control Squadron.
In November 1990, the 3rd Satellite Control Squadron was directed to relocate a DSCS II from over the Pacific to a position over the Indian Ocean in support of Operation Desert Shield. The series of relocation maneuvers was completed in December 1990, and the satellite was then configured for operational use. Combat crews saved a failing Fleet Satellite Communications spacecraft -- a Navy communications satellite -- just as Operation Desert Storm commenced, ensuring the U.S. Navy's two carrier groups had command and control of their aircraft.
On July 11, 1991, in a formal operations turnover ceremony, the squadron accepted complete operational mission transfer of all assigned satellite programs. This transfer officially established operational control of the assigned DOD communications satellites to Air Force Space Command.
On Jan. 30, 1992, as part of a reorganization at Falcon AFB, the 3 SCS was re-designated 3rd Space Operations Squadron and reassigned to the 50th Operations Group.
On March 25, 1993, the first Ultra High Frequency Follow-On was launched. Unfortunately, due to an Atlas II rocket booster malfunction, the satellite was placed in the wrong orbit. During the next several weeks, 3 SOPS personnel planned and executed a series of 25 maneuvers to move the satellite to a super-synchronous orbit. The commander of Air Force Space Command recognized 3 SOPS for their heroic efforts.
In June 1996, as part of an Air Force and Navy agreement, operations of the FLTSATCOM constellation were turned over to the Naval Satellite Operations Center at Pt. Mugu, Calif. In December 1996, 3 SOPS transferred control of the Milstar constellation to 4 SOPS. On Dec. 18, 1996, 3 SOPS gained control of five operating locations located in Nebraska, Virginia, Guam, Italy and Hawaii. The operating locations were responsible for running the Air Force's Satellite Management Centers, which monitored and controlled user access to UHF communications satellites. As part of the same agreement that transferred FLTSATCOM, the SMC's mission was also transferred to the Navy.
On July 2, 1999, as part of the same agreement that transferred FLTSATCOM to the Navy, operational control of UHF F/O Flights 2-9 transferred to the Naval Satellite Operations Center or NAVSOC. On Feb. 10, 2000, after several months of on-orbit checkout, 3 SOPS conducted its last UHF F/O sortie on Flight 10.
As part of the congressionally mandated Base Realignment and Closure decision on Onizuka AFS, Calif., in 1996, 3 SOPS assumed the DSCS III launch mission from 5 SOPS. The last DSCS III launch took place in August 2003.
In May 2008, 3 SOPS assumed satellite control authority of the first Wideband Global SATCOM system, the DoD's newest and most robust communications satellite. Each WGS effectively provides 10 times the communications capacity of a DSCS III satellite. The most recent launch of WGS was in July 2015. The 3 SOPS took command and control of this vehicle in October 2015. There is one more WGS launch planned in the coming years.
(Current as of August 2016)