More than two dozen states are vying to become the future home of U.S. Space Command, a far broader field than was previously considered.
“The Department of the Air Force has received nominations from 26 states,” Air Force spokeswoman Ann Stefanek said. “We were pleased with the strong response the Air Force received from across the country with state nominations.”
Stefanek did not say which cities or states are in the running.
The Air Force is leading the search for a headquarters location for SPACECOM, the combatant command that takes personnel and resources provided by the armed forces and uses them in daily space operations like ballistic missile warning and GPS signal transmission. The basing process had focused on Alabama, California, and Colorado, until the Pentagon decided to open a wide bidding effort to the nation earlier this year.
Defense Secretary Mark Esper said he wanted a more transparent search after lawmakers complained to the Pentagon about how the process was run.
SPACECOM is temporarily headquartered at Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., where it will stay for at least six more years. That could allow for some overlap while the Pentagon readies the official HQ. The Colorado Springs area is a major hub for the Air Force-led space community, as are California and Florida, which host military rocket launches.
Locations under serious consideration previously included Buckley, Peterson, and Schriever Air Force Bases in Colorado; Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station, Colo.; the Army’s Redstone Arsenal in Alabama, and Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif.
Now, communities from Spokane, Wash., to Sterling Heights, Mich., are stepping up to host the space operations organization of around 1,500 employees. In some cases, states are offering multiple communities.
“Florida is home to more than 20 military installations and three combatant commands,” Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis wrote to the Air Force. “Our state has a long history of support for our nation’s efforts in space through the operations of the Kennedy Space Center, the 45th Space Wing at Patrick Air Force Base and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.”
The Department of the Air Force is now evaluating its options and expects to pick its top candidates in November, Stefanek said. Locations will be evaluated on criteria like their proximity to a major metropolitan area and military installations, their livability index score, and whether they can tap into a nearby space industrial base and a qualified workforce.
Air Force officials will visit promising sites as part of the vetting process, and plan to decide on a preferred location in January 2021. Following that announcement, the department will conduct an environmental analysis and make its final decision.
The ultimate choice could come as late as January 2023.