Onizuka AFS closes, operations move to Vandenberg

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Steve Bauer
  • 30th Space Wing Public Affairs

After nearly 50 years of operations, the Air Force officially closed Onizuka Air Force Station here during a formal ceremony July 28.

Lt. Gen. John T. "Tom" Sheridan, commander of the Space and Missile Systems Center, Los Angeles Air Force Base, was the presiding official.

Onizuka AFS has played many key roles through the years in providing satellite operations support for the Department of Defense, national agencies and civil space programs.

"This station talked to remote tracking stations around the world; there were 16 of them," said General Sheridan. "Information was then sent to satellites, as this (station) was the communications node and command and control node for many U.S. and allied satellites for many years."

The station started off conducting operations on the nation's first imagery satellite, the Corona spacecraft. Following the success of the Corona mission, the base became part of the Air Force Satellite Control Network, which provides the world's only global antenna network for command and control or military, intelligence and civil spacecraft constellations.

"This facility here in Sunnyvale has supported an amazing 3.4 million satellite operations over the past years," General Sheridan said. Some of those operations included work supporting the National Reconnaissance Office. "Much of the details of this work are still classified and we cannot talk openly about it, but what I can tell you is that the operations conducted by the NRO from this site have made our nation a tremendously safer place to be."

Onizuka AFS was selected for closure by the Base Closure and Realignment Commission in 2005, with the recommendation to move operations to Vandenberg Air Force Base in order to consolidate satellite command and control operations while reducing excess infrastructure. The goal of the BRAC's decision was to generate a more efficient use of Air Force resources and savings to the American taxpayer.

Built in 1960, Onizuka AFS was originally known as the Air Force Satellite Test Center. The base has had many aliases through the years to include: Air Force Satellite Control Facility, Sunnyvale Air Force Station and Lockheed Building 100. In 1986, the station was named Onizuka Air Force Station in honor of Col. Ellison Onizuka, an astronaut who died aboard Space Shuttle Challenger Jan. 28, 1986. Mr. Onizuka's widow, Lorna, spoke at the closure ceremony.

"It is nice for me to be back amongst the military community, especially at Onizuka," said Mrs. Onizuka. "Thank you for the pride you have left my family. I will always feel like I am a part of the Air Force Family. Today is not a day of melancholy, as the operations here will move to Vandenberg."

The Onizuka AFS closure ceremony concluded with the singing of the Air Force Song led by Lt. Col. Robert Pavelko, commander of 21st SOPS and Onizuka AFS since July 2009.

Transferring from Onizuka AFS to Vandenberg AFB is the 21st Space Operations Squadron, which will operate out of Vandenberg's new Ellison Onizuka Satellite Operations Facility. The 21st SOPS will remain a geographically separated unit of the 50th Space Wing at Schriever Air Force Base, Colo.

A dedication and ribbon cutting ceremony is scheduled to commemorate the opening of the 21st SOPS's Ellison Onizuka Satellite Operations Facility at 10 a.m. July 30 at Building 12006, Vandenberg AFB.

"It is a bittersweet task moving operations to Vandenberg," said Col. Wayne Monteith, the 50th SW commander. "It's a tough job to do, and they (21st SOPS) are doing it flawlessly."

The mission of the 21st SOPS at Vandenberg is to plan and conduct specialized communications for a wide spectrum of Department of Defense, allied, civil and commercial space systems. It schedules, allocates and configures AFSCN common user resources; monitors, maintains and updates the status of AFSCN resources; and provides status, configurations and readiness of controlled resources to multiple users and command centers.