Air Force One taxis on Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado. The base is the provisional location of U.S. Space Command headquarters. Credit: U.S. Air Force

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Air Force on May 15 announced an open bidding process to select the permanent location of U.S. Space Command headquarters. The new process allows any state with large military bases to compete to host U.S. Space Command. Bids are due June 30.

The Air Force said it expects to select a location in early 2021 but it will take up to six years to build new facilities. During that time U.S. Space Command will remain at its provisional headquarters at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

U.S. Space Command was established in August 2019 as the military’s 11th unified combatant command. The future headquarters will have approximately 1,400 military and civilian personnel working there.

The Air Force last summer had narrowed the list of possible locations down to Alabama’s Redstone Arsenal, California’s Vandenberg Air Force Base and Colorado’s Peterson Air Force Base, Buckley Air Force Base, Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station, and Schriever Air Force Base.

In a letter addressed to the nation’s governors, John Henderson, assistant secretary of the Air Force for installations, environment and energy, said the Air Force is starting the search over and “allowing eligible communities to self-nominate to serve as the host for this critical mission.”

Communities must meet certain criteria to be eligible. They must be locations that have a population base that is within the top 150 largest U.S. metropolitan areas located within 25 miles of a military base. They must have a “livability index” score of 50 points out of 100 or higher as determined by the American Association of Retired Persons Public Policy Institute.

The Air Force will provide a one-page nomination template letter that communities must complete and have endorsed by the state’s governor.

The Air Force will review the bids and the top scoring candidates will receive a site visit. “We anticipate making a final selection for the preferred headquarters location in early 2021,” Henderson wrote.

Air Force Secretary Barbara Barrett told lawmakers on March 4 that the process to select a permanent headquarters for U.S. Space Command would be re-opened to give state and local leaders a fresh opportunity to make their pitches.

That announcement came amid growing lobbying campaigns by politicians from Colorado, Florida, Alabama and other states to have U.S. Space Command based in their states.

Colorado leaders are confident the command will stay there because of the state’s large space infrastructure and industrial base, Reggie Ash, of the Colorado Springs Chamber, told SpaceNews May 15.

Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.), chairman of the strategic forces subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee, called the open bidding process a huge waste of resources.

“This is worse than a boondoggle; it’s a moondoggle,” Cooper said in a statement.

Just in time for the release of the Netflix “Space Force” sitcom, the Pentagon is “creating its own parody,” said Cooper. “It doesn’t understand the money it is about to waste or the ridicule it is inviting.”

Cooper said there are only a handful of states that have the qualifications to compete to host U.S. Space Command, “so to tempt 45 other states during a time of record unemployment is senseless and cruel. Some states might even try to use pandemic funding to compete for the new headquarters.”

To avoid any confusion, the Air Force noted that the U.S. Space Force headquarters will be located in the Pentagon just like the other military services.

Sandra Erwin writes about military space programs, policy, technology and the industry that supports this sector. She has covered the military, the Pentagon, Congress and the defense industry for nearly two decades as editor of NDIA’s National Defense...