The finalists to house the new United States Space Command include one city in Alabama, four in Colorado, and one in California. This command will be part of President Trump’s proposal for a militaristic Space Force.
The Pentagon will announce Thursday which American city has won the latest federal sweepstakes in President Trump’s America — the right to be home to the headquarters of the new United States Space Command.
Huntsville, Ala., is one of the six finalists.
Four other finalists are in Colorado, home of the current Air Force Space Command, and that makes Colorado an odds-on favorite to land the new command. The third state on the finals list is California.
But Colorado isn’t a sure thing despite all that state can offer, Huntsville sources say. There is a chance Alabama can win - it’s happened before - and a chance the Pentagon will “split the baby” and assign at least some of the command’s functions here.
The most recent public figures of "projected manpower" for the command are 1,450 people, including 390 military officers, 183 enlisted personnel, 827 civilians and 50 contractors.
That’s where the impact math begins. Multiply three per family making the impact 4,350. That number could grow over the years, and there will be hundreds if not thousands of jobs at contractor companies either already located or moving to be near the command headquarters.
Before going further, it’s a good idea to understand two different space organizations in the news: the U.S. Space Force and the U.S. Space Command. The Space Command will be what the Pentagon calls a “Unified Combatant Command.” It will report to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The Space Force will be above the Space Command and could eventually become a new branch of the military like the Army, Navy and Air Force.
According to sources, Alabama is arguing that the different “space skills and technology” organizations already at Redstone and nearby would be a unique asset to the new command. It would offer an affordable one-stop shop to develop and control critical space assets with 65,000 people already working in aerospace and defense in the area.
Redstone, NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center and the companies in Cummings Research Park are innovation centers active across military and technological disciplines, the argument goes. Redstone is an official Federal Center of Excellence and hosts several organizations that might assist the command including: The Army Aviation and Missile Command (AMCOM), the Missile Defense Agency (MDA), the Aviation and Missile Research Development and Engineering Center, the Army Space & Missile Defense Command/Army Strategic Command, three of the teams working on future programs for the Army Futures Command, and the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) Missile & Space Intelligence Center.
Huntsville is also near the giant factory in Decatur where United Launch Alliance assembles rockets for military satellite launches, recently attracted advanced technology Blue Origin and Aerojet Rocketdyne rocket engine plants, is working on nuclear propulsion for spaceships and is seeking to license an airport runway for landing Sierra Nevada’s mini-space shuttle Dream Chaser.
In a way, the Dream Chaser idea is an example of Huntsville’s argument. Certifying a commercial airport runway so a mini-shuttle can bring experiments from the International Space Station directly to nearby researchers is something new. Critics might call it more stunt than vision, but how many airports can land space ships? How many thought to try? Huntsville is working the certification process with the Federal Aviation Administration, and Sierra Nevada will land its Dream Chaser somewhere.
And since the bottom line is always the bottom line, Alabama offers another carrot: The cost of living and doing business here is far lower than Colorado or California.
What’s in it for the city and state of Alabama? Jobs, of course, and the tax revenue that goes with them. There is the chance to become home to a major asset of another branch of the military: the Air Force.
Advocates say bringing the command to Alabama will make the entire Southeast stronger magnets for future space-related investments. Those investments will go somewhere as the new space race heats up with China, Russia and India, and Huntsville thinks it is the best place to prepare for what’s being called “the new high ground.”
Much has been made in space chat rooms about the perceived influence in the decision of Alabama U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby, who chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee and has a lot to say about all federal funding. If Huntsville wins the competition, some will say it was Shelby’s influence.
But if Colorado wins, will others say President Trump chose that state to give him a better shot at its electoral votes next year? He came close but lost Colorado to Hillary Clinton in 2016.
The announcement is expected to take place in either Colorado Springs, Colo., or at the White House.
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