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3d Space Operations Squadron
3d Space Operations Squadron.png
3d Space Operations Squadron emblem
Active 1941-1947; 1990-present
Country  United States
Branch  United States Air Force
Type Satellite Operations
Role Combat Support
Part of AFSPC/14 AF/50th Space Wing
Garrison/HQ Schriever AFB, Colorado
Engagements American Theater
China Burma India Theater
Pacific Theater
Decorations Air Force Outstanding Unit Award
Lt Col Chadwick D. Igl

The United States Air Force's 3d Space Operations Squadron (3 SOPS) is a satellite operations unit located at Schriever AFB, Colorado.


The mission of 3 SOPS is to ensure reliable space-borne communications to the President, the Secretary of Defense and U.S. and Allied Forces. The mission is accomplished by conducting launch and on-orbit operations for the Defense Satellite Communications System Phase III satellites and Wideband Global Satellite. These satellites provide secure high-rate data communications links to the President, the Secretary of Defense, theater commanders, and strategic and tactical forces worldwide.[1]


World War II

World War II squadron emblem

The squadron was first activated at Maxwell Field, Alabama as the 3d Photographic Squadron under the 1st Photographic Group in May 1941.[2] It performed aerial mapping primarily over the southeastern United States prior to the Pearl Harbor Attack using Bell P-39 Aircobra sub-variants (F-2) which were equipped for the ground-attack and reconnaissance roles. After the United States entry into World War II, the unit flew aerial mapping missions over the Caribbean and northern South America, mapping various islands for locations of airfields to support the South Atlantic Transport route and Antilles Air Command antisubmarine mission. In addition, it flew aerial mapping missions over Western Canada and the Alaska Territory, mapping uncharted territory to support the building of the Alaska Highway.

Boeing F-13 Reconnaissance Aircraft

The squadron deployed to the China-Burma-India theater in December 1943, performing unarmed long-range mapping of remote areas of the Theater over combat areas in support of ground forces and strategic target identification over Indochina and Malay Peninsula for follow-up raids by XX Bomber Command operating from India.

The Third returned to the United States in early 1944 and re-equipped with very long range Boeing B-29 Superfortresses converted to F-13A reconnaissance configuration. It deployed to the Central Pacific Area and was attached to 20th Air Force. It supported the Strategic Air Offensive over the Japanese Home Islands. On 31 October 1944, a 3d Photographic Reconnaissance Squadron (PRS) F-13 became the first American aircraft over Tokyo since the famed Doolittle Raid in 1942. By the end of the war, the 3rd PRS had flown 460 combat missions mainly over Japan. It remained in the Western Pacific performing reconnaissance mapping flights over Japan, Korea, and China.

The squadron's F-13s returned to the United States in early 1946 for storage or reassignment. It was inactivated in early 1947.

Modern era

In 1985, the initial cadre of Air Force NATO III and DSCS II satellite operators received training at Sunnyvale Air Force Station, California. These personnel relocated to Falcon AFB in 1987 and became Operating Location-AB, Consolidated Space Test Center. These men and women became the nucleus of what would eventually become the 3d Space Operations Squadron (SOPS). On 2 August 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 2 February 1990, OL-AB was discontinued and its personnel, equipment and mission transferred to the newly activated 3d Satellite Control Squadron (SCS).

In November 1990, the 3d SCS was directed to relocate a DSCS II satellite from over the Pacific to a position over the Indian Ocean to support Operation Desert Shield. The series of relocation maneuvers were completed in December 1990 and the satellite was then configured for operational use. Combat crews saved a failing FLTSATCOM spacecraft just as Operation Desert Storm commenced, ensuring the U.S. Navy's two carrier groups had command and control of their aircraft.

On 11 July 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 30 January 1992, as part of a reorganization at Falcon AFB, the 3d SCS was redesignated the 3d SOPS.

On 25 March 1993, the first UHF F/O satellite was launched. Unfortunately due to an Atlas II rocket booster malfunction, the satellite was placed in the wrong orbit. Over the next several weeks, Third 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 3rd SOPS for their heroic efforts.

In June 1996, as part of an Air Force and Navy agreement, operations of the FLTSAT constellation were turned over to the Naval Satellite Operations Center at Point Mugu, California. In December 1996, 3rd SOPS transferred control of the Milstar constellation to the 4th SOPS. On 18 December 1996, the 3d SOPS gained control of five operating locations located in Nebraska, Virginia, Guam, Italy, and Hawaii. The OLs 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 FLTSAT, the SMC's mission was also transferred to the Navy.

On 2 July 1999, as part of the same agreement that transferred FLTSAT to the Navy, operational control of UHF F/O Flights 2–9 transferred to NAVSOC. On 10 February 2000, after several months of on-orbit checkout, 3rd SOPS conducted its last UHF F/O sortie on Flight 10.

As part of the Congressionally mandated Base Realignment and Closure decision to close Onizuka Air Force Station in 1996, the 3d SOPS assumed the DSCS III launch mission from 5th SOPS. The most recent DSCS III launch took place in March 2003.

In October 2007, the 3 SOPS assumed satellite control authority of one of the DOD's newest and most robust communications satellites, with the launch of WGS-2 Wideband Global SATCOM.


3d Reconnaissance Squadron

  • Constituted as 3d Photographic Squadron on 15 May 1941
Activated on 10 June 1941
Redesignated as 3d Mapping Squadron on 13 January 1942
Redesignated as 3d Photographic Mapping Squadron on 9 June 1942
Redesignated as 3d Photographic Reconnaissance Squadron, Very Heavy on 19 May 1944
Redesignated as 3d Reconnaissance Squadron, Very Long Range (Photographic-RCM) on 19 September 1945
Redesignated as 3d Reconnaissance Squadron, Very Long Range, Photographic on 16 January 1946
Inactivated on 15 March 1947.
  • Consolidated with the 3d Space Operations Squadron on 13 October 1994 as the 3d Space Operations Squadron[3]

3d Space Operations Squadron

  • Redesignated as 3d Satellite Control Squadron and activated on 9 January 1990
Redesignated as 3d Space Operations Squadron on 30 January 1992
  • Consolidated with the 3d Reconnaissance Squadron on 13 October 1994[3]



Aircraft/Satellites operated

  • Wideband Global Satellite[4] (2007–present)
  • UHF Follow-On (1990–2004)
  • DSCS III[5](1990 – present)
  • Skynet IV/NATO IV (1990–2004)
  • FLTSATCOM[6] (1990–???)
  • DSCS II (1990–???)

Awards and Campaigns

1 September 1990-31 August 1991
1 October 2000-1 October 2001

1 October 2001-1 October 2002
2 October 2002-2 October 2003

Western Pacific

Air Offensive, Japan




 This article incorporates public domain material from the Air Force Historical Research Agency website

Further reading

  • Cahill, William M. (Spring 2012). "Imaging the Empire: The 3d Photographic Reconnaissance Squadron in World War II". pp. pp. 12–19. 

External links

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