'Rocket City' Picked as Home of New Space Command Headquarters

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Rockets on display outdoors at the United States Space & Rocket Center.
Rockets on display outdoors at the United States Space & Rocket Center. (Ke4roh/Wikimedia Commons)

The Department of the Air Force has chosen Huntsville, Alabama, to host U.S. Space Command, or SPACECOM, headquarters.

An Air Force spokesperson told Military.com on Wednesday that the Army's Redstone Arsenal has been selected as the preferred location. Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey issued a separate announcement regarding the news. Huntsville, already home to the U.S. Space and Rocket Center as well as Redstone, is sometimes known by the nickname "The Rocket City."

In November, the service selected six candidate locations to host the military's 11th unified combatant command. The bases included Redstone; Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico; Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska; Patrick Air Force Base, Florida; Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado; and Port San Antonio at Kelly Field, Texas.

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Redstone is the service's preferred location. In a separate release, the Air Force said that the other locations remain reasonable alternatives until an environmental impact analysis on Redstone is complete. The final decision is expected in 2023, according to the release.

The location is expected to host roughly 1,400 personnel, spokeswoman Ann Stefanek said at the time.

SPACECOM was reactivated in August 2019, before the establishment of the Space Force, the military's sixth branch, that December. SPACECOM is responsible for military operations related to space, while the Space Force organizes and trains space personnel. Like the other military branches, the Space Force has its headquarters at the Pentagon.

The process to find a location for SPACECOM started in spring 2019 but faced pushback from lawmakers who believed the Defense Department was not being transparent enough about its selection. In May 2020, the Pentagon directed the Air Force to go back to the drawing board to find a permanent home for Space Command.

The command is temporarily housed at Peterson in Colorado Springs, which is also home to a robust, space-focused infrastructure with the nearby Schriever Air Force Base and Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station. Colorado Springs will remain the "provisional location" until facilities at Redstone are ready, the Air Force said.

Yellowhammer News, an Alabama news website, reported Wednesday that Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., was instrumental in bringing SPACECOM to his state. Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Ala., now a ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee, was one of Space Force's original champions.

Rogers added a provision to the fiscal 2018 National Defense Authorization Act that would have required the Air Force to stand up an internal "U.S. Space Corps" in hopes of taking enemy threats in space more seriously. That effort hit a roadblock months later and was ultimately dropped, only for the idea to be resurrected later by President Donald Trump, who called for the establishment of the Space Force.

"Huntsville is the right pick for a host of reasons," Shelby said in a statement. "Our skilled workforce, proximity to supporting space entities, cost-effectiveness and quality of life, among other things. I am thrilled that the Air Force has chosen Redstone and look forward to the vast economic impact this will have on Alabama and the benefits this will bring to the Air Force."

Costs for new construction to support SPACECOM are estimated at nearly $1 billion, Yellowhammer reported.

Huntsville -- already home to the Missile Defense Agency, Army Space and Missile Command, Army Aviation and Missile Command, the Defense Intelligence Agency/Missile and Space Intelligence Center -- has been adding even more military and federal entities.

In 2018, the Army selected Redstone Arsenal to bring in two of Army Futures Command’s cross-functional teams: Future Vertical Lift and Assured Positioning, Navigation and Timing, according to an Army DVIDS release.

The Army Rapid Capabilities and Critical Technologies Office, which includes the Hypersonics and Directed Energy Project, opened at the base in 2019. The FBI will also use the installation to train "10,000 to 15,000 agents, analysts and staff annually" in the near future, the DVIDS release said.

An Air Force spokesperson said that during a typical basing decision process, multiple officials are consulted, including local commanders and those involved in discerning the mission worthiness of a particular location.

Air Force Secretary Barbara Barrett, the decision-making authority, was also required to keep top brass and other leaders at the Pentagon and the White House informed on the decision progress, the spokesperson said. Last week, Barrett presented her analysis during a meeting to members of the military’s National Command Authority, which includes President Donald Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, Acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller and the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Barrett chose Redstone Arsenal following the meeting, the spokesperson said.

-- Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at oriana.pawlyk@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @Oriana0214.

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