Redstone Arsenal moves its main gate farther from the interstate and expands inbound lanes to improve traffic. Now, the outbound lanes for the gate will be expanded to reduce traffic leaving the installation. (Courtesy photo)

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Army’s Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Alabama, was picked as the future location of U.S. Space Command’s headquarters.

Air Force Secretary Barbara Barrett announced the decision Jan. 13, one day before stepping down from her post.

The selection of Redstone Arsenal is a huge win for Huntsville, nicknamed “Rocket City.” U.S. Space Command is currently based at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs. Alabama was considered a long shot and Colorado was the front runner, given its incumbent status and concentration of military installations and space industry contractors. 

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.

Redstone Arsenal was one of six finalists the Air Force announced in November. Besides Colorado’s Peterson Air Force Base, the other candidates were Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico; Patrick Air Force Base, Florida; Joint Base San Antonio, Texas; and Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska.

“Huntsville compared favorably across more of these factors than any other community, providing a large, qualified workforce, quality schools, superior infrastructure capacity, and low initial and recurring costs. Additionally, Redstone Arsenal offered a facility to support the headquarters, at no cost, while the permanent facility is being constructed,” the Air Force said in a statement. 

Redstone Arsenal currently hosts the Army’s Space and Missile Defense Command and Army Strategic Forces Command, the Army Aviation and Missile Command, the Defense Intelligence Agency’s Missile and Space Intelligence Center and Missile Defense Agency operations. The area also is home to many defense contractors and space industry facilities including the factories of United Launch Alliance and Blue Origin.

Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) strongly pushed for the move. “The industrial base surrounding Redstone is vibrant with more than 400 aerospace and defense technology companies,” he said in a statement. ‘The region has long held a position of national leadership in space and rocket research, development, manufacturing, operations, and maintenance.”

The selection process started in May when the Air Force launched an open bidding process. Bids were submitted from 24 states.

The Air Force revealed the shortlist of locations on Nov. 19 and a lobbying battle began. A team of Air Force officials during the past month conducted in-person and virtual meetings with representatives from each locale.

For now, U.S. Space Command will remain at Peterson Air Force Base. The Air Force estimates it could take up to six years to complete an environmental review of the new location and stand up new facilities.

“The Department of the Air Force anticipates making a final decision for the location of U.S. Space Command headquarters in spring 2023, pending the results from the required environmental impact analysis,” the Air Force said. “Colorado Springs, Colorado, remains the provisional headquarters until the permanent location is ready to support the mission.”

Republican congressman Doug Lamborn, who represents Colorado Springs, sent a letter to President-elect Biden urging him to reverse what he called a “political decision” to move U.S. Space Command to Alabama. 

“I am disappointed by the horrendous decision to rip U.S. Space Command out of its home in Colorado Springs and move it to a new location,” said Lamborn. 

U.S. Senators Michael Bennet (D) and John Hickenlooper (D) said in a joint statement they are “deeply disappointed the Trump Administration is trying to move Space Command from Colorado to Alabama. 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. We are concerned by rumors that the Trump White House influenced this decision for political reasons.”

Defense analyst Todd Harrison, of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said the decision “reeks of being politically motivated — taking jobs from a state that voted for Biden and moving them to a state that voted for Trump.”

A former Pentagon official familiar with the Space Command basing selection process told SpaceNews that the Air Force originally recommended Peterson Air Force Base as the preferred location and that the incoming Biden administration is expected to review the decision.

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...