The U.S. Air Force picked Huntsville, Alabama to be the home of U.S. Space Command, the 11th and most recently established unified combatant command.
The eagerly anticipated decision was not without controversy, as lawmakers in the command’s temporary home of Colorado immediately charged that politics affected the choice.
The home of Redstone Arsenal and the Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville won out in a fierce competition with several other candidates, including San Antonio; Albuquerque, Cape Canaveral in Florida and Colorado Spring, Colorado — where the command was provisionally based after being signed into law in 2019. Its mission is to coordinate the military’s role in space operations and is separate from President Trump’s newly created Space Force, which will be a separate service under the Pentagon equivalent to the Army, Navy and Air Force.
Air Force officials said Huntsville was best suited based on several factors including infrastructure capacity, community support and cost to the Defense Department.
The command is likely to be a prime attraction for federal spending and spinoff private sector development.
“Redstone Arsenal offered a facility to support the headquarters, at no cost, while the permanent facility is being constructed,” Air Force officials said in a statement.
Alabama Republican Gov. Kay Ivey was quick to announce Huntsville’s selection after she was notified of the selection early Wednesday by Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Air Force Bob Moriarty.
“This combination only enhances the outstanding relationships we have with the 65 diverse federal agencies on Redstone Arsenal, not to mention the growing presence of the FBI and other federal installations,” she said in a statement. “The bottom line is simple, the Redstone Region is the most natural choice to become home to such an important mission for our country.”
The Marshall Space Flight Center, also located on Redstone Arsenal, is the home of the government’s civilian rocketry and spacecraft propulsion research. The Saturn rocket, used by the Apollo program, was developed there.
Air Force officials said they conducted both virtual and on-site visits to determine which location to pick.
Huntsville compared favorably on more counts than any of its rivals, they said.
U.S. Space Command has been based at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado on a provisional basis and Colorado Gov. Jared Polis lobbied heavily for it to remain there. Mr Polis, a Democrat, said the decision to move the operation — and at least 1,500 jobs — to a reliably red state like Alabama was based on partisan politics.
“Reports that the in-depth military process found Colorado Springs to be the best location for military readiness and cost and recommended Colorado to the president, only to be overruled for politically motivated reasons, are deeply disconcerting,” he said in a statement along with Colorado Lt. Gov. Dianne Primavera.
He said the move could cause serious economic damage to the region and upend the lives of hundreds of military and civilian families that had already established homes in Colorado Springs.
Colorado’s two Democratic senators, Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper, said they were “deeply disappointed” about the move and said they are concerned the decision came from the Trump White House and was made for political reasons.
“We do not believe this decision reflects the best choice or even a rational choice for our national security and ability to confront threats in space,” they wrote in a statement.
They said they will work with the incoming Biden administration to have the decision reviewed.
“We believe a process based on the merits will keep Space Command in Colorado. There is no role for politics when it comes to our national security,” the lawmakers wrote.
Colorado Springs will remain the “provisional” headquarters until Huntsville is ready to fully support the mission, Air Force officials said.