By 2nd Lt. Marie Denson
50th Space Wing Public Affairs
The 1st Space Operations Squadron holds the title as having the longest standing space mission in the 50th Space Wing and it has been a remarkable ride. The Squadron was activated Feb. 14, 1961 and since then has undergone name changes, mission changes and the opportunity to work on multiple satellite programs.
“Over the last 50 years we’ve supported multiple, different missions … we’ve had a hand in a lot of stuff,” said Capt. Timothy Blockyou, Space Based Space Surveillance System Operations Flight commander.
It all began in 1957 after the Soviet spacecraft, Sputnik was launched. Two German expatriates, Dr. G.R. Miczaika and Dr. Eberhart W. Wahl started the calculations to track satellite data, called Project Space Track. After almost four years United States Air Force Chief of Staff General Curtis E. LeMay believed the research and development of the satellite tracking data was ready to become operational and in 1961 the 1st Aerospace Surveillance and Control Squadron was born.
The mission for 1st Aero was to detect objects previously unknown and maintain a complete catalogue. This included tracking all artificial earth satellites, space probes, carrier rockets, and debris, U.S. and foreign.
The squadron’s name changed in 1987 to the 1st Satellite Control Squadron, where it began the ever-expanding satellite control mission. In 1992 the name was changed to the 1st Space Operations Squadron.
The squadron’s current mission is to operate and maintain command and control of the Space Based Space Surveillance system and missions assigned to the Multi-Mission Space Operations Center.
The squadron has played a role in more than five separate programs. In 1988 it began commanding the Defense Support Program constellation. In 1989 it assumed control of launch and early-orbit operations for the Global Positioning System. In 1990 it took on the Defense Meteorological Satellite program, and in 2003 1 SOPS assumed responsibility of conducting mission-assurance telemetry for Department of Defense boosters.
The title of the 1st Space Operations Squadron is well suited being that it had operated the Wing’s first research and development satellite, the Technology for Autonomous Operational Survivability, in 1996 and the first transfer of operations from the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization to Air Force Space Command in 2000 when it assumed control of the Midcourse Space Experiment, satellite.
Col. (ret.) Jack Anthony, former 1 SOPS commander and guest speaker for the upcoming heritage dinner said TAOS was his baby.
“I was the technical program manager at the Air Force Research Lab in Kirtland in 1989,” he said. “First Space Operations Squadron took control of TAOS when I became the commander in 1996. The mission was planned to last only eight months, but it ended up lasting six-and-a-half years.” Colonel Anthony said it was the people doing their job well and the great capabilities of the satellite that kept the mission going for well past its scheduled expiration date.
Again, the squadron is on the cutting edge of providing responsive space enabling technology and combat effects to the warfighter. The new Operationally Responsive Space-1 mission, which is set to launch this year, will support U.S. Central Command’s intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance needs by hosting an innovative sensor system.
“The current operations in 1 SOPS marks a momentous time in our squadron’s history, and it is more than fitting that it coincides with celebration of our golden anniversary,” said Lt. Col. Lorenzo Bradley, 1 SOPS commander. “As we deploy Air Force Space Command’s first-ever space-based surveillance satellite, SBSS, we come full circle and return to our heritage as the 1st Aero when we were responsible for tracking U.S. and foreign satellites and debris, now we are responsible for doing the same thing from space! Additionally, similar to when Colonel Anthony transitioned TAOS to operations, we are again providing cutting edge responsive space capabilities to the warfighter by transitioning TacSat-3 from experimentation to operations, and preparing for the launch and operation of ORS-1. In the storied history of this squadron, this is one of our finest hours, and celebrating our 50th anniversary is a proper tribute to the men and women past, present and future of 1 SOPS.”
“It’s a unique chemistry that has gotten them this far,” said Colonel Anthony. “When I was a commander we did some pretty cool and crazy things, and people began to trust us. And that trust has become the SBSS mission and MMSOC. When you think, how did they get where they are today? It is great people and great vision! All the doorways that are open to give Space Command agile responsive capability, I’m pleased to see where they are going today.”
During the last 50 years 1 SOPS has made considerable contributions to the nation’s space capabilities. In honor of 1 SOPS 50th anniversary a heritage dinner will be held Feb. 11 at the Peterson Club. For more information contact Captain Blockyou at 719-567-6166.