What's next for space command? A look at the finalists for its new headquarters

U.S. Space Command was established in August 2019 as the military’s 11th unified combatant command.

The Air Force is expected to make its decision on the preferred location for the new U.S. Space Command headquarters in early 2021. The future headquarters will have approximately 1,400 military and civilian personnel working there.

In November, the Air Force selected six finalist locations from self-nominated communities across 24 states on behalf of the Office of the Secretary of Defense. The finalist locations include Kirtland Air Force Base in New Mexico, Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska, Patrick Air Force Base in Florida, Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado, Port San Antonio in Texas and Redstone Army Airfield in Alabama.

The Air Force has already conducted virtual and on-site visits at each candidate location to assess which area is best suited to host U.S. Space Command headquarters. According to the Air Force, the assessment is based on factors related to mission, infrastructure capacity, community support, and costs to the Department of Defense.

U.S. Space Command was established in August 2019 by the Trump administration as the military’s 11th unified combatant command.

Here's what you need to know about each of the finalist locations:


Kirtland Air Force Base

Kirtland Air Force Base, located in Albuquerque, New Mexico, is the home of the Space Rapid Capabilities Office, the Space Vehicles Directorate and numerous high-tech testing facilities. Kirtland’s 52,000 acres have been referred to as a national security complex—where 108 mission partners under five different Air Force major commands, and the Departments of the Air Force and Energy, populate the mega base.

According to United States Space Force Deputy Commander Maj. Gen. Stephen Whiting, Kirtland is an important center of activity for the USSF.

“Kirtland will continue to be critical for the United States Space Force as a hub for science, technology, research and development,” Whiting said in a statement. “The Space and Missile Systems Center is a part of the Space Force, and their multiple offices here are doing critical development work.”

According to Albuquerque's Economic Development Council, the city has seen an uptick in interest towards space and defense, with 18 times the concentration of astronomers and physicists, more than 10 times the concentration of semiconductor processing techs, and more than seven times for nuclear engineers compared to the national average.

In addition, the city offers a cost-of-living index score of 96.8, 3.2 percentage points lower than the national average. Albuquerque’s cost of living is 16% lower than Denver and 8% lower than Tucson. The EDC notes that a two-bedroom apartment will cost $1,023 in Albuquerque versus $1,813 in Denver, while the cost of buying a home is $258,000 in Albuquerque verus $506,000 in Denver.

The Air Force also has a relationship with the University of New Mexico, providing the college with a five-year, $6.7 million grant for its Agile Manufacturing Center, which supplys cutting-edge robotics and computer systems for researchers, students and private companies to create rapid design-build techniques for satellite systems and directed energy technologies.

The Air Force is also working with scientists from the university's COSMIAC research center, which develops technical solutions for aerospace and defense applications. Under two new contracts with the Air Force Research Laboratory totaling $25 million, scientists are conducting basic research on new space communications technology, upgrades to the nation’s Global Positions System, and impacts of radiation on satellites and other spacecrafts.

Offutt Air Force Base

Offutt Air Force Base, located in Omaha, Nebraska is home to the 55th Wing of the Air Force, U.S. Strategic Command, the 557th Weather Wing and the 595th Command and Control Group.

The base received an endorsement from RealClear Defense News, which noted that Offutt is the only operational base of the current options listed. In addition, Offutt houses the newly renovated nuclear command, control, and communications (NC3) headquarters.

"NC3 is a critical component in our collective national defense, and the constellation of satellites currently being established is a critical component of this and our early warning systems," RealClear Defense's David Craig wrote. "The satellite systems currently being installed are just the beginning of a critical operational space architecture. Space Force and SPACECOM will need to rely upon research and development and public-private partnerships."

University of Nebraska System President Ted Carter has also established a midwestern university alliance focused on space-oriented academic and research in the region. Together, the alliance's institutions enroll some 163,000 students and offer nationally recognized programs in engineering, space law, cybersecurity, information technology and other areas relevant to U.S. Space Command’s work. The University of Nebraska is already home to the National Strategic Research Institute, which was just renewed this year with a $92 million contract from the Air Force. The institute conducts national security & defense research and is one of only 14 of its kind in the country.

According to the Lincoln Journal Star, Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts and Sen. Deb Fischer headlined a presentation last week where government officials and military leaders pitched to Air Force leadership why Offutt is the best location for U.S. Space Command.

“We want to make this more than just a Nebraska mission,” Ricketts said.

Col. Gavin Marks, the 55th Wing’s commander, told the committee the base has plenty of capacity for the Space Command’s expected 400,000-square-foot headquarters building, noting that the Air Force will have invested about $3 billion in new construction or renovation of the base by the time SpaceCom would slated to move in 2027.


Patrick Air Force Base

Patrick Air Force Base, in Brevard County, Florida, is the home of the 45th Space Wing, and the site of the Eastern Launch Range including Cape Canaveral station, which is one of two U.S. military launch sites. Earlier this month, the bases were renamed as Space Force installations.

“As the world’s premier gateway to space, Florida has been the departure point for more cargo and humans to space than any other place in the world, so I believe our state is the logical choice to base this new command, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said in a statement regarding Patrick Air Force Base's finalist status.

Desantis said that Florida already is home to several important strategic facilities and Air Force bases, including the Kennedy Space Center, Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Tyndall Air Force Base in Panama City, Eglin Air Force Base in Valparaiso and Patrick Air Force Base in Cocoa Beach.

Florida’s growing commercial space industry provides jobs for nearly 100,000 Floridians in over 470 aerospace and aviation companies that do business in the state, which export more than $7.6 billion in goods annually, providing major economic contributions to the Sunshine state.

In addition to issuing a formal letter to President Trump requesting Florida to be the new home of U.S. Space Command, DeSantis also directed Space Florida to make it a top priority to pursue and secure this new headquarters.

According to the Orlando Sentinel, Space Florida President and CEO Frank DiBello told the Enterprise Florida Board of Directors in December that Florida has made a “very strong case” for Patrick Air Force base.

“We’re already part of a support network for three combatant commands,” DiBello said during a virtual meeting. “We’re one of the most military-friendly communities and a very military-friendly state. We have a very large number of active-duty reserve and guard personnel and military dependents and more than 68,000 veterans, which is a good 11 percent of our population. And that’s indicative of the fact that this is a great place for a military facility to locate and to operate.”

The growth of the commercial aerospace industry throughout the state enhances the appeal of Florida for serving as the “launchpad for national security missions in space,” Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nunez, who serves as chairwoman of the Space Florida board of directors, told the Enterprise Florida board in a video.

Nunez confirmed in a tweet on Dec. 21 that she spoke with Air Force Leadership about "why Brevard County is the ideal location for U.S. Space Command Headquarters."

Peterson Air Force Base

Peterson Air Force Base, in Colorado Springs, Colorado, has been home to Air Force Space Command since 1982 and is currently the provisional location for U.S. Space Command headquarters until a permanent location is selected and facilities are ready to support the mission.

State leaders including Colorado Sens. Michael Bennett and Cory Gardner, Gov. Jared Polis and Lt. Gov. Dianne Primavera have been lobbying the Trump administration to keep Peterson Air Force Base as U.S. Space Command's permanent home.

“Colorado is the epicenter for national security space and the only permanent home for U.S. Space Command,  Gov. Polis said in a statement. "U.S. Space Command should stay here where it has already found a home among our strong military community, thriving aerospace industry, and world-class academic and research institutions. The overwhelming bipartisan support for Space Command and our proud military heritage make Colorado the very best place for Space Command.”

Retired Air Force Lieutenant general and Dean of the Mitchell Institute of Aerospace Power Studies, David Deptula, said Peterson Air Force Base is the ideal site for U.S. Space Command because it is "the most affordable and efficient choice."

"It requires no expenditure of tax-payer money nor any delay in operations that would be incurred with a move," Deptula added. Colorado provides the connective tissue that enhances the coordination that occurs on a continuous face-to-face basis between Space Command, Northern Command, North American Aerospace Defense Command, the joint overhead persistent infrared center, and the National Space Defense Center--all co-located in Colorado. Let’s keep U.S. Space Command in Colorado Springs and get on with building a stronger space warfighting capability by not diverting resources to move the command for no good reason."

Colorado Springs Chamber and Economic Development Council President and CEO Dirk Draper noted Peterson Air Force Base has decades of experience hosting military space operations, building an ecosystem of more than 250 aerospace and defense companies, research and development entities, and a "strong system of higher education", including the U.S. Air Force Academy.

"The state and this region have invested billions in infrastructure to support the military, from transportation to cyber to force protection," Draper added. "There is no location in the United States better equipped right now to host and support this new command.”


Port San Antonio

Retired Air Force Gen. Edward Rice Jr., the former commander of Air Education and Training Command, wrote in a Military Times op-ed that Port San Antonio would be the best location suited for Space Command's new headquarters. Port San Antonio sits on Kelly Field, the home of Air Force flight operations.

Rice Jr. believes that having the U.S. Space Command headquarters in Port San Antonio would provide "quick access to the globe from San Antonio's central location" and that the city hosts "world-class commercial and military cybersecurity capabilities that will help secure and defend Space Command’s networks and support a strong and resilient command and control enterprise."

Rice Jr. also argues that because Port San Antonio is not a federal installation, the location can deliver a "newly built, customized, and fully force-protected facility at commercial pricing and without the delays inherent in federal military construction programs." He also claimed that Port San Antonio's lease structure would ensure that the headquarters would be consistently maintained and supported to commercial standards, representing savings and value to Space Command

According to Rice Jr., Joint Base San Antonio has already been home to over 200 missions from service personnel, including the Brooke Army Medical Center, the 16th Air Force, and the Navy Medicine Education, Training, and Logistics Command. Joint Base San Antonio has also hosted the National Security Agency and Department of Homeland Security, which Rice Jr. says will "augment Space Command's mission."

In addition, Rice Jr. wrote that San Antonio, which earned the title "Military City, USA", is one of the nation's fastest-growing cities where "the technology and innovation sectors are truly exploding."

"The decision on where to locate U.S. Space Command involves a number of interrelated and complex elements and no other city satisfies these elements as thoroughly as does San Antonio," Rice Jr. concluded. "As Space Command defends U.S. vital interests in, from, and to space, San Antonio is ready to host the command with unmatched synergy and support."


Redstone Army Airfield

Redstone Army Airfield, located at Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Alabama, is a military airport used to support the U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Command, NASA, and other U.S. government aviation and space activities.

The airfield is located in Redstone Arsenal, which has been home to many space mission assignments including NASA’s Apollo moon program and the International Space Station Program. The Redstone Campus has also been home for the Missile Defense Agency, Army Space and Missile Defense Command/Strategic Forces Command and the Defense Intelligence Agency.

Last week, Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey announced that she spoke with Pentagon officials about making Huntsville U.S. Space command's new home.

"I was proud to pitch why AL should be home to Space Command HQ," Ivey tweeted. "I would love to give a warm “Alabama” welcome to @US_SpaceCom  HQ in the near future, if they choose the Rocket City!"

According to the Redstone Regional Alliance, the area has more than 80,000 highly educated employees in the aerospace and defense professions as well as 65 diverse federal agencies and offices.

"The Region offers many personnel with the requisite skills for U.S. Space Command’s hiring needs, professional development, and advancement opportunities," the alliance states on its website. The Huntsville/Madison County Chamber operates an excellent workforce support program that will assist the workforce and spouses of personnel relocating with the U.S. Space Command."

The alliance believes that Redstone Arsenal would be the perfect location for U.S. Space Command due to the area's low costs for construction, renovation and transportation. Redstone's construction and sustainment costs are 83% and 82% of the national average, respectively. Meanwhile, the area's cost of living is 86% of the national average. In 2020, the average price of a new home in Huntsville & Madison County was $313,000 and the average federal civilian annual salary was $60,066.

Redstone also claims it is "well suited to satisfy the immediate and future needs of the U.S. Space Command" due to its readily accessible facilities, a diverse, dense and secure network hub for operations, state-of-the-art existing infrastructure for missiles and space with growth capacity and a coordinated, practiced, and comprehensive anti-terrorism, force protection and security program.

The industrial base surrounding Redstone includes more than 400 aerospace and defense technology companies, including Boeing, Lockheed Martin, GE Aviation, and Raytheon Technology.