By Randolph J. Saunders
50th Space Wing Historian
The history of Schriever Air Force Base began in September 1979, when Department of Defense officials approved plans for development of an installation to provide a second control node for support of existing, and planned, satellite constellations, and to house an operations support center for NASA space shuttles. By the mid-1970s, the Air Force’s only satellite command and control facility, the Air Force Satellite Control Facility at Sunnyvale, California, had become surrounded by commercial and residential development, creating security concerns and allowing no room for mission expansion. In response to this, the Air Force developed initial plans that called for a merger of Air Force space operations at a Consolidated Space Operations Center and a Shuttle Operations Center from which Air Force shuttle missions would be planned and monitored.
During the next two years, teams evaluated dozens of potential sites, eventually selecting a couple of parcels of state land approximately ten miles east of Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado. Following negotiations with the state of Colorado, state leadership granted the federal government deed to approximately 640 acres of land. On May 17, 1983, contractors broke ground on what would become Falcon Air Force Station, named for the unincorporated town north of the installation. For more than two years, contractors worked to complete sufficient facilities to open the base, including headquarters and operations buildings, support facilities and infrastructure.
On July 8, 1985 the 2nd Space Wing was activated in a ceremony at Falcon AFS, although the installation was not complete enough to allow the new wing to occupy the facilities. A ribbon cutting ceremony on Sept. 26, 1985 symbolized the activation of Falcon AFS, although few facilities were ready for occupancy. The Challenger disaster in 1986 canceled the planned construction of the SOPC, as the Air Force decided to also move GPS operations to Falcon.
During the next decades, Falcon grew to meet its mission requirements, necessitating increases in land area for operations, support and administrative facilities, and a buffer zone for security. Mission operations began transferring in 1987 and continued for the next six years until the CSOC was completed and all system turnovers had occurred. In November 1993, a proposal was made for a land exchange with Colorado to obtain the desired properties. By February 1996, negotiations on land transfers with Colorado, combined with purchases of privately owned parcels, resulted in the acquisition of nearly 4,000 acres. This provided the base room to expand and provided an adequate buffer against encroachment.
Leaps in space-related technologies added importance to Falcon’s consolidated space operations and brought new missions and organizations to the station. Recognizing this growth, Air Force Space Command renamed the installation Falcon Air Force Base on June 13, 1988.
In September 1990, the Joint National Test Facility, now the Joint National Integration Center, opened at Falcon, along with the Air Force Space Command’s activation of the Space Warfare Center, now renamed Space Innovation & Development Center. These new organizations necessitated additions to the base’s infrastructure and supporting units.
Changing strategic priorities in the early 1990s led to a reduction of United States military organizations and personnel in Europe. To maintain the history of distinguished units, the Air Force chose to inactivate the 2 SW and activate the 50th Tactical Fighter Wing, which was renamed to 50th Space Wing to assume responsibility for the satellite control and network operations missions at Falcon. The 50 SW activated at Falcon on January 30, 1992, and absorbed the personnel, equipment, facilities and functions of the 2 SW.
As the new millennium neared, the installation continued to grow. In 1997, Air Force Space Command activated the Space Battlelab at Falcon to develop new and innovative ideas for applying space technology to combat forces. In 1998, the Air Force renamed Falcon in honor of Gen. Bernard A. Schriever, the man known as the “Father of the Air Force Space and Missile Program.” On June 5, 1998, the wing held a renaming ceremony in honor of Gen. Schriever, marking the first instance of an Air Force installation being named in honor of a living person. Also in 1998, construction began on new facilities to house missions and support operations being transferred from Onizuka Air Force Station, California, a result of the 1995 Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission initiatives passed into law by Congress.
Midway through the first decade of the 21st century, Schriever AFB hosted nearly 70 major and minor facilities and employed more than 6,200 people. The base’s continuing growth and importance prompted wing and command officials to begin preliminary planning to bring several hundred housing units and associated community support activities to the base. Base housing opened in the fall of 2010 with 242 units for officer and enlisted personnel.
On April 1, 2013, Air Force Space Command inactivated the Space Innovation and Development Center — its subordinate units reassigned. The base’s host unit, the 50th Space Wing, gained the 3rd Space Experimentation Squadron from the inactivation while remaining units and missions transferred to units of the U.S. Air Force Warfare Center. Additionally, elements of the 310th Space Wing began moving to Schriever in the summer of 2016, to further consolidate wing operations and activities.
Today, in addition to Air Force Space Command and Air Force Reserve Command units, Schriever has grown to serve as home to United States Strategic Command units and agencies, and conducts joint operations with other branches of the DOD.