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Florida could be back in the running to host Space Command headquarters

Air Force Space Command (US Air Force/Released)

Florida could be back in the running to host the headquarters of U.S. Space Command after the Air Force announced last week a decision to re-open the selection process.

Air Force Secretary Barbara Barrett told the House Armed Services Committee last Wednesday of the decision to open applications, seeming to invalidate a shortlist released last year delineating the six locations — four in Colorado, one in California and one in Alabama — that were finalists to host the headquarters of the nation’s 11th combatant command. The recently formed command would coordinate space-related military activities across branches of service.

Florida, like other locations across the country, had prepared an aggressive campaign to snag the headquarters, despite Colorado’s position as the clear front runner. The current Air Force Space Command is based in Colorado Springs.

“We have the workforce, we have the infrastructure, we have the history of space launches and space exploration,” said Rep. Michael Waltz, R-St. Augustine, who has led much of the push in Congress. “Florida will be at the tip of the spear of the 21st century space race and I couldn’t be more excited to make our case.”

In May, Florida leaders said they were “misled” about the process for the headquarters selection following the release of the shortlist. But Space Florida, the state’s spaceport authority, has continued to meet with military communities and installations across the state. Space Florida also hired a consultant for about $200,000 to aid in those efforts and has been working to develop a strong proposal outlining why the state would be a good location for the future command.

Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said at a Senate Armed Services Committee meeting last week that the decision to reopen the competition was made by him because of complaints from members of Congress that the previous process had not been fair and transparent enough.

The Air Force is expected to release its set of guidelines for what states need to include in their proposals by the spring. A decision on the new command location could come at the end of the year or in early 2021.

Florida is already home to three other combatant commands, Southern Command near Miami, and Central Command and Special Operations Command in Tampa. It also has a robust military community and is home to Kennedy Space Center, Patrick Air Force Base and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station — soon to be renamed to Patrick Space Force Base and Cape Canaveral Space Force Station.

It’s clear why Florida would want Space Command, said Space Florida’s Dale Ketcham. The Pentagon has estimated it would cost about $84 million to set up the unit, which would be comprised of about 1,200 personnel. Space Florida has not performed an economic estimate on the potential impact of basing the command in the state.

“We know it’s something we want that would be of real value based on existing combatant command,” said Ketcham, who is Space Florida’s vice president of government and external relations.

But one of its biggest selling points, he said, will likely be large presence of commercial space in Florida. SpaceX, Blue Origin and Boeing are all increasing their operational footprints on the Space Coast.

“I think there is a growing recognition that national security requirements in space will want to rely increasingly on the commercial space marketplace to meet those requirements,” Ketcham said, “and nowhere is that commercial space marketplace growing more vibrantly and aggressively than here in Florida.”


© 2020 The Orlando Sentinel

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.