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Fact Sheets

21st Space Operations Squadron

The 21st Space Operations Squadron is a unit of Delta 6, headquartered at Schriever Space Force Base, Colorado and is hosted as a tenant organization at Vandenberg Space Force Base, California. 

The 21st SOPS provides and enables assured access to space-based systems.

The 21st SOPS conducts Satellite Control Network operations, launch support as augmentation to the Western Range, manages Global Positioning System ground infrastructure, provides SCN communications segment monitoring, delivers satellite communications in support of the SCN and a small group of other users and is the lead for 24/7 SCN cyber vulnerability management scanning and risk mitigation. The 21st SOPS operates Geographically Separated Units at Diego Garcia, British Indian Ocean Territory (Det. 1, call-sign REEF), Guam’s northwest field (De.t 2, call-sign GUAM) and Kaena Point Hawaii (Det. 3, call-sign HULA). The 21st SOPS has an operating location on Kwajalein Atoll, Republic of the Marshall Islands, which provides maintenance for a GPS ground antenna and monitoring station. A GPS GA and MS are also co-located with Det. 1 in Diego Garcia and an MS is co-located with Det. 3 at Kaena Point. The 21st SOPS performs mission from two locations on or near Vandenberg SFB. The VTS (call-sign COOK) provides SCN remote tracking and Western Range launch infrastructure augmentation. The EOSOF houses the squadron’s command section supports one of the two SCN operational control nodes, two modernized earth satellite communication terminals and the SCN Communications Control Center. The 21st SOPS maintains the back-up scheduling Network Operation Center for 22nd SOPS and back-up satellite operations facilities for 2nd, and 4th SOPS at Vandenberg SFB. Additionally, 21st SOPS hosts the 148th SOPS (California Air National Guard) as a tenant at the COOK tracking station. 

The command element for the 21st SOPS is located at Vandenberg SFB within the Ellison Onizuka Satellite Operations Facility. With two separate locations at Vandenberg SFB, four GSUs and one remote operating location (OL-A) bridging the international dateline, the 21st SOPS is the first U.S. Space Force squadron to greet each day and last to bid it farewell. The squadron executes multiple missions to provide and enable assured access to the space domain, continuing the legacy of Col. Ellison Onizuka, an Air Force astronaut aboard the Space Shuttle Challenger that exploded shortly after lift-off Jan. 28, 1986. In addition to the EOSOF and its five
worldwide locations, the squadron also manages and operates the Vandenberg Tracking Station which is approximately 10 miles northeast of Vandenberg SFB.

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, California. In 1960, land was purchased in Sunnyvale, California 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 AFS on July 24, 1986, in honor of Col. Ellison Onizuka, who lost his life in the Space Shuttle Challenger accident. 

The 21st SOPS 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, 21st SOPS absorbed the roles of the 750th Space Group and all subordinate units, to include the 5th SOPS. 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, VTS, from the 22nd SOPS. On Oct. 1, 2010, the 50th NOG reorganized and the squadron gained Diego Garcia Tracking Station, BIOT; Guam Tracking Station, northwest field, Guam; and Hawaii Tracking Station, Kaena Point, Hawaii. 

On Aug. 1, 2011, the GPS GA and MS were transitioned from the 2nd SOPS (of the 50th Operations Group) to 21st and 23rd SOPS (of the 50th NOG).  As a result, 21st SOPS absorbed operations and maintenance responsibilities for GPS sites on Kwajalein Atoll, Diego Garcia and Hawaii. 

In April, 2015, 21st SOPS launched a cyber-defense pilot program resulting in the creation of dedicated SCN cyber protection forces and protocols. The 21st SOPS inherited the role of 24/7 SCN network scanning to detect and report irregular network traffic for assessment and remediation. 

As part of the U.S. Space Force structure change, as of July 24, 2020 the unit is assigned to Delta 6.  

(Current as of June 2023) 

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