For Airmen serving as Space Systems Operations (SSO) specialists (1C6X1), the date of 21 August 2022 has special significance: it will mark the 65th anniversary of the launch of the world’s first  intercontinental ballistic missile, or ICBM. Launched from a Soviet space facility in the Kazakhstan Steppe in 1957, the successful flight of the Russian R-7 missile forever changed the strategic and tactical considerations of the United States Department of Defense in general and of the Air Force in particular. It also ushered in entirely new concepts of warfare, ones that saw battle lines effectively being drawn hundreds of miles above the Earth’s surface.

The United States, of course, soon followed with development of its own ICBMs. Combined with the deployment of various commercial and military satellites, the threat of possible missile strikes made the creation of an Air Force specialty dedicated to monitoring the activity of vehicles in Earth orbit an existential necessity.

Today, Airmen serving in Space Systems Operations are tasked with the detection and identification of vehicles traveling in earth orbit and monitoring the parameters of those orbits (they’re also responsible with maintaining the orbital parameters of Air Force vehicles). A vast array of sensors deployed across the globe as well as on satellites are used to detect missile launches and track their flight paths.

Offensive and defensive space-control systems, many of them highly classified, are at the disposal of these Airmen, and consequently anyone seeking entry into this specialty must pass the exhaustive Single Scope Background Investigation. This level of security is especially critical for Airmen who’ve been given the task of replicating the space-based capabilities of adversarial nations and entities and are thus intimately familiar with their technologies.

Depending on their career paths, Airmen will carry out command and control duties at agencies such as the Missile Warning Center, the Joint Space Operations Center, and the NORAD/USNORTHCOM Command Center, to name a few—just another reason why successfully passing thorough background checks is so important for this specialty.

The award criteria for the Space Systems Operations badge is the same as for nearly all other occupations, with the Senior-level badge being awarded to Staff Sergeants or higher who have qualified at the 7-Skill level. Master-level badges are given to Master Sergeants who have logged a minimum of five years in the specialty at the 7-skill level or higher.

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