The civilian world is in “award season,” which is that time of the year when those who don’t take home the top prize typically say what an “honor it was just to be nominated.” Lawmakers from Colorado and New Mexico clearly see it another way when it came to the selection of the U.S. Army’s Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Alabama to be the new headquarters for the U.S. Space Command.
The Space Command became the 11th unified combatant command in August 2019, and the military estimates it will have 1,400 military and civilian personnel at its new HQ.
Back in May 2020, the Department of the Air Force announced its open bidding process, and by the fall of last year, the selection process narrowed down six locations. It was then announced in January that Rocket City won out over sites in Colorado, Florida, Nebraska, New Mexico, and Texas.
It could take up to six years to build the new facility, in which time the U.S. Space Command will continue to operate from its Peterson Air Base, Colorado provisional headquarters. Now, just weeks after the military announced its decision, lawmakers in two of the states passed over have been vocal about why it should be reconsidered.
Colorado Lawmakers Respond
The decision not to keep Space Command at Peterson Air Base has become one of the few bipartisan and potentially even unifying issues in the Centennial State. U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.), who has been seen as one of the most conservative members of Congress, has reached out across the aisle to his Democrat colleagues who have taken up the cause.
Colorado’s nine-member congressional delegation, made up of three Republicans and six Democrats, sent a letter to President Joe Biden to request a probe into the decision. One of those who signed the letter included Rep. Jason Crow (D-Colo.), who also has brought up the issue with the new Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin.
Austin, a former U.S. Army general, who last week was confirmed by the U.S. Senate, has reportedly been amenable to a review.
U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), who serves on the Senate Intelligence Committee, has vowed to “fight like hell” to keep the command in Colorado, where it would be close to other military space units. Fellow Colorado Sen. John Hickenlooper (D), who was elected in November, was reported to be unfamiliar with the politics behind the pick but argued that it didn’t make business sense – as it would duplicate infrastructure that is already in Colorado.
New Mexico Cries Foul
Both of New Mexico’s Senators Martin Heinrich (D) and Ben Ray Luján (D), along with Rep. Teresa Leger Fernández (D) have also sent a letter to President Biden asking for a review of the decision to select Huntsville over their state.
The letter claims that initial reports of the selection process “raise serious questions of political impropriety” and that it violated the service’s standards. The three New Mexico lawmakers wrote, “we are concerned the Air Force circumvented its own Strategic Basing Process (SBP), the objective and reproducible approach the service has used to manage significant basing in the past.”
They also question the “speed with which the Air Force finalized their decision” and added they “find it difficult to understand how the Air Force can properly evaluate one of the most important aspects of a candidate’s bid in less than a week.”
Alabama Defends the Choice
Not surprisingly, lawmakers in Alabama were quick to defend the selection of Huntsville. That included city councilwoman Frances Akridge, who told WAFF in Huntville, “I can’t imagine in any kind of competitive situation, if anybody didn’t check their checklist diligently and do their due diligence.
“It’s too big of a decision to make, to not have left every stone unturned and look at every angle and make an informed decision,” she added. “I’m confident they did their due diligence.”
Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle and Alabama Governor Kay Ivey agreed, with Ivey adding, “The bottom line is simple, the Redstone region is the most natural choice to become home to such an important mission for our country.”
Space Command Expands Network of Allies
Even as the debate over where its future HQ will eventually land, Space Command announced it will expand its network of its partners to allow it to better monitor orbital traffic. To date it has signed agreements with 25 nations that will share space situation data, which will be used to identify the location of satellites and space junk to help avoid collisions in the earth’s orbit.
Space Command receives some of its space intelligence from a group of commercial satellite operators, which are known as the Commercial Integration Cell (CIC). It began as a pilot program in 2015, when space surveillance was handled by the U.S. Strategic Command as way to bring in additional data form satellite operators so as to improve the military’s space situation awareness.
Current partners include Intelsat, SES Government Solutions, Inmarsat, Eutelsat, Maxar, Viasat, XTAR, Iridium Communications and Hughes Network Systems.
SpaceNews.com reported that Elon Musk’s SpaceX is expected to join the CIC in the near future, and that could be a major coup for Space Command as SpaceX isn’t just a launch service provider, but is now the operator of the world’s largest satellite constellation.