Pensacola, FL could be the current frontrunner to host the headquarters of the U.S. Space Command, but other Florida cities could soon follow as the U.S. Air Force seeks self-nominations from qualified cities around the country. The Space Command is the unified combatant command under which the U.S. Space Force, the Air Force, and other branches of the military operate in space.

The U.S. Space Command was established in late 2019 as the military’s 11th unified combatant command. It is now temporarily headquartered at Peterson Air Force Base, in Colorado Springs, CO. When the new Space Command headquarters is fully established, it will house 1,400 military and civilian personnel.

City officials in Pensacola have noted that the city does meet the minimum screening criteria released by the Department of the Air Force in May. Those criteria include being within the top 150 Metropolitan Statistical Areas in the country, being located within 25 miles of a military base, and having a minimum score of 50 on the Livability Index published by the American Association of Retired Persons Public Policy Institute.

Due to its close proximity to the Naval Air Station Pensacola (NASP), Pensacolacould have a leg up on other locations– even among those in the state. NASP is the location for tens of thousands of naval aviators, including John H. Glenn and Neil Armstrong, received their training. The city, which is referred to as “The Cradle of Naval Aviation,” is also home to some 642 defense contractors, and those firms have won contracts for work to be done in the region to the tune of $4.2 billion from 2009-2019.

In State Competition

Pensacola is still facing challenges from other locations around the country, including those in the Sunshine State. Space Florida, the aerospace economic development agency for the state, hosted a basing eligibility overview virtual program just last month.

“We look forward to engaging our Florida communities in this important discussion for the future of U.S. Space Command Headquarters,” said Frank DiBello, president and CEO of Space Florida. “Florida’s robust defense and aerospace ecosystem provides unique capabilities that would greatly benefit the U.S. Space Force.”

The virtual event was held in partnership with Enterprise Florida, the Florida Defense Support Task Force, the Florida Defense Alliance and Keiser University. It featured a review and discussion of sitting criteria for the HQ, and was designed to help interested Florida communities evaluate their eligibility as well as to allow the cities to communicate their respective strengths to the U.S. Space Force.

The attendance list showed that representatives of the cities of Ormond Beach, Jacksonville, Fort Lauderdale, Tampa Bay, Largo and Sanford had been expected to be a part of the meeting.

Competition Outside of FL

The strong push by Pensacola is notable in that just a few months ago the city wasn’t even on the short list of potential locations. Earlier this year, the U.S. Air Force released a list of six locations that it was considering to host the headquarters for the new Space Command. No city in Florida was included.

Instead, the front runners on the short list were: Alabama’s Redstone Arsenal, California‘s Vandenberg Air Force Base, and four locations in Colorado, including Peterson Air Force Base (the current temporary HQ), as well as Buckley Air Force Base, Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station and Schriever Air Force Base.

Request for More Bids

In March, during a meeting of the House Armed Services Committee, Secretary of the Air Force Barbara Barrett announced the search would be reopened to give state and local governments a renewed opportunity to pitch for the command headquarters.

As a result, other cities around the country have stepped up. These include St. Clair County in Illinois, which has called to host the site on land that was previously proposed for the $1.75 billion National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency’s western headquarters. The proposed land is next to Scott Air Force Base and own ed by the county, which means that the base’s security fence could be extended to include the Space Command inside the base. In addition, Scott Air Force Base is home to the U.S. Transportation Command as well as several other military departments.

Two U.S. Representatives from Indiana are also asking that the Air Force take a look at Grissom Air Reserve Base for consideration as well. In a letter to Secretary Barrett, Rep. Jim Banks from the 3rd District and Rep. Jackie Walorski from the 2nd District cited Grissom’s 12,500-foot runway, which had been previously designated as an alternative landing location for space missions. Both representatives offer significant room for housing and office space, as well as the access to recognized STEM universities.

Final Decision Slated for Early 2021

Interested cities will need to supply a one page nomination by June 30. The Department of the Air Force has said it will conduct a comprehensive evaluation in collaboration with the eligible communities, while it will make a final section for the preferred headquarters location in early 2021.

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Peter Suciu is a freelance writer who covers business technology and cyber security. He currently lives in Michigan and can be reached at petersuciu@gmail.com.