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Space and Missile Systems Center

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Space and Missile Systems Center
Space and Missile Systems Center.png
Space and Missile Systems Center shield
Founded1 July 1954; 66 years, 3 months
Country United States
Branch United States Space Force
RoleSpace research and development
HeadquartersLos Angeles Air Force Base, California, U.S.
AFOEA Streamer.jpg

Air Force Organization Excellence Award[2]
Commander Lt Gen John F. Thompson[3]
Vice Commander Brig Gen Donna D. Shipton
Command ChiefCCM Lisa R. Arnold

The Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC) is a center of the United States Space Force and headquartered at Los Angeles Air Force Base (LAAFB), California. The Space and Missile Systems Center is responsible for developing, acquiring, fielding, and sustaining military space systems.



Western Development Division (1954–1957)

General Bernard Schriever, the founder of the Western Development Division and father of the military space program.
General Bernard Schriever, the founder of the Western Development Division and father of the military space program.

The Western Development Division (WDD) was established on 1 July 1954 by Brigadier General Bernard Schriever. Organized as a component of the United States Air Force's Air Research and Development Command, the Western Development Division's was stood up to accelerate the development of the SM-65 Atlas intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). Later in the year the Division gained responsibility for the development of the HGM-25A Titan I, which was a backup to the Atlas. By the end of 1955, the Western Development Division added another missile system, developing the PGM-17 Thor intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM). These three missile systems would become known as "First-Generation Missiles". Throughout its missile development, the Western Development Division pioneered the use of concurrent development on the largest scale since its inception.[4][5]

On 10 October 1955, the Western Development Division also gained the military space mission, assuming responsibility for the Military Satellite System, better known as Weapon System 117L (WS 117L), from the Wright Air Development Center. WS 117L has a family of different subsystems, with the most important being a photographic reconnaissance payload and a missile warning payload.[6]

Air Force Ballistic Missile Division (1957–1961)

On 1 June 1957, the Western Development Division was redesignated as the Air Force Ballistic Missile Division (AFBMD). In September 1959, the Air Force Ballistic Missile Division gained responsibility for developing reconnaissance and surveillance satellites and launch vehicles. In March 1961 it assumed the Army's responsibility for communications satellite development and the Navy's responsibility for navigation satellite development.[7]

The launch of Sputnik 1 by the Soviet Union reemphasized missile development. By 1957 the Air Force Ballistic Missile Division began making significant progress in its missile programs, performing successful launches of the Atlas, Titan I, and Thor missiles, beginning to turn them over to operational Strategic Air Command units.[8] Many of the first generation ballistic missiles were modified to become the first space launch vehicles. Modified Thor and Atlas missiles would serve as the basis of many space launch vehicles, with modified versions used into the 1980s and 1990s. NASA's Project Mercury relied on the Air Force's Atlas rockets and the Delta series of rockets were developed from the Thor.[9]

By 1959 the WS 117L was split into three different programs. The photographic reconnaissance payload were spun off into the Discoverer program and Satellite and Missile Observation System (SAMOS), while the missile warning payload became the Missile Defense Alarm System (MIDAS). Discoverer, the public name for the joint Air Force–Central Intelligence Agency Corona program, took film images in space, then orbited the film canisters which were caught mid–air by aircraft. SAMOS was designed to collect both photographic and electronic intelligence, and then electronically transmit them to ground stations. Future reconnaissance spacecraft were managed and developed by the National Reconnaissance Office. MIDAS used an infrared sensor to detect intercontinental ballistic missile launches, however it never became operational and remained a research and development program. A fourth satellite program was started in 1960, when the Air Force Ballistic Missile Division, NASA, and the United States Atomic Energy Commission initiated a joint project to develop a space–based nuclear detonation detection system. Project Vela led to the development of the Vela Hotel satellite network, which first launched in 1963.[10]

The Pioneer program was the first military space mission to be launched and operated by the Air Force. Launched in 1958, Pioneer 0, Pioneer 1, and Pioneer 2 were all Air Force programs, with Pioneers 1 and 2 turned over to NASA. Pioneer 1 is considered to be the first deep space probe and transmitted back extensive information about the Van Allen radiation belt. Although the Boeing X-20 Dyna-Soar was under development at the Wright Air Development Center, the Titan IIIC launch vehicle was being developed by the Air Force Ballistic Missile Division.[11]

Space Systems Division (1961–1967)

Illustration of the Manned Orbiting Laboratory in space.
Illustration of the Manned Orbiting Laboratory in space.

In 1961, Air Research and Development Command was transformed into Air Force Systems Command, led by former Western Development Division commander General Bernard Schriever. Due to the rising importance of space, the AFBMO was split on 1 April 1961, with the space-side becoming the Space Systems Division (SSD) and the missile-side becoming the Ballistic Missile Division (BMD).

The Ballistic Missile Division began development on the second generation of ballistic missiles in the early 1960s. This second generation included the LGM-25C Titan II and LGM-30 Minuteman. These two missiles replaced the first-generation Atlas and Titan I ballistic missiles, and served as the cornerstone of U.S. nuclear forces. The Minuteman I was replaced several years later by the improved Minuteman II and III missiles.[12] The Space Systems Division developed a number of space launch systems based upon the Ballistic Missile Division's ICBMs. NASA's Project Gemini was launched on modified Titan launch vehicles.[13]

The Space Systems Division continued the current space programs started by the AFBMD and started several advanced programs. Starting in 1963 an operational infrared missile warning program was started. Serving as a following on to MIDAS, this program would eventually become the Defense Support Program (DSP). The SSD also began development of the Defense Meteorological Support Program (DMSP), a weather observation satellite constellation. DMSP was initially tasked to support the National Reconnaissance Office, however in 1965 became a program office under the Space Systems Division. The Space Systems Division also started the world's first operational military satellite constellation, developing the Initial Defense Communications Satellite Program (IDCSP) in 1962.[14]

The Space Systems Division was also responsible for the development of anti-satellite systems. The first anti-satellite program developed by the SSD was Program 437, which used modified Thor missiles tipped with nuclear warheads to destroy orbital targets. Air Defense Command gained responsibility for the operational employment of the weapons system, and the program was shut down in 1975. Program 437 was developed into Program 437AP, which replaced the nuclear payload with a photographic system designed to inspect targeted satellites.[15]

In addition to uncrewed military space systems, General Schriever made the Space Systems Division responsible for all crewed military spaceflight. This put the Manned Orbiting Laboratory (MOL) program, a crewed military space station, under its purview. The SSD also began development of the Titan IIIM, which was designed to be the launch vehicle for the MOL. The program itself was canceled in 1969.[16]

In 1965 Air Force satellite operations transitioned from the 6594th Test Group to the Space Systems Division's Air Force Satellite Control Facility. Space launches were also directly conducted by the Space Systems Division. Launches from Vandenberg Air Force Base were conducted by the 6595th Aerospace Test Wing, while launches from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station were conducted by the 6555th Aerospace Test Wing.[17]

Space and Missile Systems Organization (1967–1979)

On 1 July 1967, the Space Systems Division and Ballistic Missile Division were merged again to create economic efficiencies, becoming the Space and Missile Systems Organization (SAMSO).[18]

In 1970 the Space and Missile Systems Organization's space launch functions were reorganized, with the Space and Missile Test Center (SAMTEC) established to oversee space launches from both Vandenberg AFB and Cape Canaveral AFS, while also managing the Western Test Range. The 6595th Aerospace Test Wing was organized under SAMTEC, while the 6555th Aerospace Test Wing was reorganized as the 6555th Aerospace Test Group and subordinated to the 6595th Aerospace Test Wing. In 1977 SAMTEC assumed responsibility for managing the Eastern Test Range. The Space and Missile Test Center was reorganized again in 1979, being redesignated the Space and Missile Test Organization (SAMTO). Its field units were replaced as well, with the new Eastern Space and Missile Center (ESMO) and Western Space and Missile Center (WSMO) being responsible for launching and managing their respective ranges.[19]

In 1973 SAMSO began development of a new ballistic missile program, which would become the LGM-118 Peacekeeper intercontinental ballistic missile.[20] In the 1970s NASA began development of the Space Transportation System, better known as the Space Shuttle. SAMSO was involved in the Defense Department's efforts to utilize the shuttle program, building a launch and landing facility at Vandenberg Air Force Base that permitted polar launches and the Inertial Upper Stage that permitted the shuttle to launch payloads into higher altitudes.[21]

Even with the merger of space and missiles, SAMSO continued its space program. Starting in 1969, the Defense Satellite Communications System (DSCS) was initially conceived as a follow on to the IDCSP and was first launched in 1971. SAMSO also developed the Fleet Satellite Communications System for the Navy, which had the Air Force Satellite Communications System as an embedded payload. Communications satellites were also developed for U.S. allies, with Skynet developed for the British Armed Forces and a series of NATO communications satellites developed. Aside from communications satellites, SAMSO made the first push towards global navigation, starting development of the Global Positioning System (GPS) in 1973. This system built upon the past success of the Navy's Transit and Timation programs, as well as the Air Force's 621B technology program. Initially conceived as a purely military system, GPS later was opened to the wider civilian population.[22]

SAMSO began the development of a follow-on anti-satellite weapons system that did not use nuclear warheads. Project Spike involved placing an anti-satellite missile on a Convair F-106 Delta Dart, which would then destroy the spacecraft through kinetic impact. Project Spike never entered the development stage, but rather formed the groundwork for future air-launched anti-satellite missiles.[23]

Space Division (1979–1990)

Test launch of the ASM-135 ASAT missile.
Test launch of the ASM-135 ASAT missile.

On 1 October 1979, space and missile functions were split for a second time. SAMSO was split, with its space functions becoming Air Force System Command's Space Division and its ballistic missile functions becoming the Ballistic Missile Office (BMO). On 1 October 1982, Air Force Space Command was established to serve as an operational command for space and consolidate Air Force space operations, which were splintered across several different major commands. On 1 October 1987, the Space Division's Air Force Satellite Control Facility was inactivated, with its functions and personnel transferred to Air Force Space Commands operational wings. On 1 October 1989, the Space and Missile Test Organization was inactivated, leaving its launch wings as direct reporting units to the Space Division. While operational responsibilities were transitioned to Air Force Space Command, the Space Division centralized the service's space research and development. In October 1982, the Space Division's Air Force Space Technology Center (AFSTC) was established at Kirtland AFB, with the Air Force Weapons Laboratory, Air Force Geophysics Laboratory, and Air Force Rocket Propulsion Laboratory assigned to it.[24]

The Space Division began the development of the Military Strategic and Tactical Relay (Milstar) communications satellite constellation in 1982, which was designed specifically to support the National Command Authority.[25] The 1986 Challenger disaster illustrated some of the major dangers of using the Space Shuttle as the sole space launch system. The Development of the Titan IV space launch vehicle began in 1985 but gained new importance after the disaster. Development also started on the Delta II and Atlas II space launch vehicles, both derived from earlier ballistic missiles.[26]

The Space Division continued SAMSO's anti-satellite weapons research, developing the McDonnell Douglas F-15 Eagle launched ASM-135 ASAT, which used kinetic impact to destroy a target. It destroyed the Solwind satellite in a 13 September 1985 test. In the early stages of the Strategic Defense Initiative, the Space Division was involved in the Boost Surveillance and Tracking System, Space Surveillance and Tracking System, and the Space-Based Interceptor.[27]

The Ballistic Missile Office continued SAMSO's development of the Peacekeeper missile, performing extensive test launches. The missile forces were activated in 1983 under Strategic Air Command in. In 1986, development also started on the MGM-134 Midgetman, also known as the Small ICBM. The Small ICBM program was canceled in 1992 with the end of the Cold War.[28]

Space Systems Division (1990–1992)

On 15 March 1990 the Space Division was restored to its historic name, being redesignated as the Space Systems Division (SSD). The same change also affected its sister organization, with the Ballistic Missile Office being redesignated the Ballistic Missile Division (BMD).[29]

The transition of launch functions to Air Force Space Command began on 1 October 1990, with the Eastern Space and Missile Center and Western Space and Missile Center transitioned into the new command. The transfer of launch responsibility gradually occurred, starting with the Delta II and Atlas E launch, followed by the transfer of Atlas II, Titan II, and Titan IV launches. In December 1990 the Air Force Space Technology Center combined its subordinate laboratories and was renamed the Phillips Laboratory, named after former commander of Air Force Systems Command and the director of NASA's Apollo program General Samuel C. Phillips [30]

With the end of the Cold War Air Force investment in missiles dropped significantly, resulting in the Ballistic Missile Division being redesignated as the Ballistic Missile Organization (BMO) and subsumed into the Space Systems Division, merging space and missiles development under the same organization for the third time.[31]

Space and Missile Systems Center (1992–present)

Illustration of a GPS Block III satellite in orbit.
Illustration of a GPS Block III satellite in orbit.

In 1992, Air Force Systems Command was merged with Air Force Logistics Command to become Air Force Materiel Command, resulting in the Space Systems Division being redesgnated as the Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC). In September 1993, the Ballistic Missile Organization was inactvated, fully merging missile development into the Space and Missile Systems Center.[32]

In January 1993, Kirtland Air Force Base and its host wing, the 377th Air Base Wing, were transferred from Air Mobility Command to the Space and Missile Systems Center. Many of SMC's subordinate units were reorganized into the larger Air Force Materiel Command. The Phillips Laboratory became the Air Force Research Laboratory on 8 April 1997, while Kirtland AFB and the 377th Air Base Wing were transferred to the Air Armament Center on 1 October 1998.[33]

The Space and Missile Systems Center began development of a new generation of launch vehicles, with the Atlas III procured in 1999. The Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle program was contracted in 1995, resulting in the Delta IV and Atlas V space launch vehicles.[34]

With the completion of the GPS constellation in 1995 much of the center's space focus shifted to replacing aging spacecraft. In 1994, SMC began the development of the Space-Based Infrared System (SIBRS), a missile warning constellation that would serve as the successor of the Defense Support Program (DSP). Milstar also had a replacement system under works, with the Advanced Extremely High Frequency (AEHF) satellite communications constellation contracted in 1999. A year later, SMC issued a contract for the Wideband Global SATCOM (WGS) to replace the Defense Satellite Communications System (DSCS).[35]

Commissioned by congress, the Commission to Assess United States National Security Space Management and Organization was tasked to evaluate the status of the military and intelligence space forces of the United States. One of their key findings was that space operations and acquisitions should be centralized under one major command. As a direct result of the commissions recommendations, on 1 October 2001, the Space and Missile Systems Center was transferred from Air Force Materiel Command to Air Force Space Command.[36]

On 20 December 2019, the Space and Missile Systems Center, along with the rest of Air Force Space Command, became a component of the United States Space Force.[37]


Commander, Western Development Division

No. Commander[38] Term
Portrait Name Took office Left office Duration
1Major General
Bernard A. Schriever 
2 August 195431 May 19572 years, 302 days

Commander, Air Force Ballistic Missile Division

No. Commander[38] Term
Portrait Name Took office Left office Duration
1Major General
Bernard A. Schriever 
1 June 195724 April 19591 year, 327 days
2Major General
Osmond J. Ritland
25 April 195931 March 19611 year, 340 days

Space Division and Ballistic Missile Office

Deputy Commander for Aerospace Systems, Air Force Systems Command

No. Commander[38] Term
Portrait Name Took office Left office Duration
1Lieutenant General
Howell M. Estes Jr.
1 April 196110 October 19621 year, 192 days

Commander, Space Systems Division

No. Commander[38] Term
Portrait Name Took office Left office Duration
1Major General
Osmond J. Ritland
1 April 196113 May 19621 year, 42 days
2Lieutenant General
Howell M. Estes Jr.
14 May 19622 October 1962141 days
3Major General
Ben I. Funk
3 October 196231 August 19663 years, 332 days
4Major General
Paul T. Cooper
1 September 196630 June 1967302 days

Commander, Ballistic Systems Division

No. Commander[38] Term
Portrait Name Took office Left office Duration
1Major General
Thomas P. Gerrity
1 April 196130 June 19621 year, 90 days
2Major General
W. Austin Davis
1 July 196218 July 19642 years, 17 days
3Major General
Harry J. Sands Jr.
19 July 196419 July 19662 years, 0 days
4Major General
John L. McCoy
20 July 196630 June 1967345 days

Commander, Space and Missile Systems Organization

No. Commander[38] Term
Portrait Name Took office Left office Duration
1Lieutenant General
John W. O'Neill
1 July 196731 August 19692 years, 61 days
2Lieutenant General
Samuel C. Phillips
1 September 196924 August 19722 years, 358 days
3Lieutenant General
Kenneth W. Schultz
25 August 197228 August 19753 years, 3 days
4Lieutenant General
Thomas W. Morgan
29 August 197528 April 19782 years, 242 days
5Lieutenant General
Richard C. Henry
28 April 197830 September 19791 year, 155 days

Space Division and Ballistic Missile Office

Commander, Space Division

No. Commander[38] Term
Portrait Name Took office Left office Duration
1Lieutenant General
Richard C. Henry
1 October 19791 May 19833 years, 212 days
2Lieutenant General
Forrest S. McCartney
1 May 198330 September 19863 years, 152 days
3Lieutenant General
Aloysius G. Casey
9 October 198623 June 19881 year, 258 days
4Lieutenant General
Donald L Cromer
24 June 198814 March 1989263 days

Commander, Ballistic Missile Division

No. Commander[38] Term
Portrait Name Took office Left office Duration
1Major General
John W. Hepfer
1 October 197931 October 19801 year, 30 days
2Major General
Forrest S. McCartney
31 October 198019 May 19821 year, 200 days
3Major General
Aloysius G. Casey 
19 May 198230 September 19864 years, 134 days
4Major General
Edward P. Barry Jr.
30 September 198614 March 19892 years, 165 days

Space Systems Division and Ballistic Systems Division

Commander, Space Systems Division

No. Commander[38] Term
Portrait Name Took office Left office Duration
1Lieutenant General
Donald L. Cromer
15 March 198931 May 19892 years, 77 days
2Lieutenant General
Edward P. Barry Jr.
8 July 199130 June 1992358 days

Commander, Ballistic Systems Division

No. Commander[38] Term
Portrait Name Took office Left office Duration
1Major General
Edward P. Barry Jr.
15 March 198930 May 198976 days
2Brigadier General
Ralph G. Tourino
30 May 19894 May 1990339 days

Commander, Space and Missile Systems Center

No. Commander[38] Term
Portrait Name Took office Left office Duration
1Lieutenant General
Edward P. Barry Jr.
1 July 199216 November 19942 years, 138 days
2Lieutenant General
Lester L. Lyles
17 November 199418 August 19961 year, 275 days
3Lieutenant General
Roger G. DeKok
19 August 199612 August 19981 year, 358 days
4Lieutenant General
Eugene L. Tattini
13 August 199825 May 20012 years, 285 days
5Lieutenant General
Brian A. Arnold
25 May 200120 May 20056 years, 280 days
6Lieutenant General
Michael A. Hamel
20 May 200516 May 20082 years, 362 days
7Lieutenant General
John T. Sheridan
16 May 20083 June 20113 years, 18 days
8Lieutenant General
Ellen M. Pawlikowski
3 June 201119 June 20143 years, 16 days
9Lieutenant General
Samuel A. Greaves
19 June 201422 March 20172 years, 276 days
10Lieutenant General
John F. Thompson
22 March 2017Incumbent3 years, 198 days


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 This article incorporates public domain material from the United States Government document: "".

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