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New Mexico in running to land Space Command

A screenshot of participants in a July web conference on the state of the space industrial base. Clockwise from top left, Col. Eric J. Felt, director of the Air Force Research Laboratory’s Space Vehicles Directorate; Brig. Gen. Steven J. Butow, space portfolio director for the Defense Innovation Unit; Kaitlyn Johnson, of CSIS’s Aerospace Security Project; Joel B. Mozer, chief scientist for U.S. Space Force; Thomas W. Cooley, chief scientist for AFRL’s Space Vehicles Directorate; and Casey DeRaad, founder and director of New Space NM. (Courtesy of New Space NM)

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

Albuquerque is one of 31 locations nationwide that the U.S. Department of Defense is now considering to set up a new headquarters for the U.S. Space Command.

The U.S. Air Force officially launched a competition last May to choose a new, permanent home for the command, and in June, Mayor Tim Keller and Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham jointly submitted a letter proposing Albuquerque as the new location. In response, the city will now be considered as a potential candidate for the headquarters in a formal evaluation process, the mayor and governor announced Friday afternoon.

If New Mexico lands the Space Command, it would bring more than 1,000 new jobs to the city, plus contract opportunities for local industry.

“New Mexico’s defense and science installations as well as our emphasis on a growing aerospace sector should give us an edge for this potential economic driver,” Lujan Grisham said in a prepared statement. “… I am excited that, with the mayor’s partnership, Albuquerque and our state are moving forward in this process.”

The city and state have a strong case to make, given the extensive defense and space-related infrastructure that’s already located here, Keller added.

“It almost goes without saying what a boost this would mean for local businesses and jobs, but more than that, a permanent U.S. Space Command headquarters in Albuquerque just makes sense,” Keller said in a statement. “Our state is already emerging as a center of space exploration and research.”

The DOD established the Space Command in August 2019 as the military’s 11th unified combatant command. It’s temporarily located now at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs.

Not Space Force

The command is separate from the new U.S. Space Force, which President Donald Trump authorized last December as the sixth branch of the U.S. military. The DOD is now rapidly standing up the Space Force, and New Mexico is already front and center in those efforts, given the myriad space-related defense entities housed at Kirtland Air Force Base.

That includes the Air Force Research Laboratory’s Space Vehicles Directorate, which is currently leading much of the military’s research and development efforts to modernize space-related defense systems.

The Space Command, in contrast, is a unified combatant command that coordinates all branches of the military when conducting operations in, from or through space, said Scott Maethner, strategy and operations lead for New Space NM, an industry association working to connect New Mexico businesses with emerging opportunities in space. The command will oversee all military space operations, whether that’s deterring aggression or defeating adversaries in an attack.

Stiff competition

The Air Force will make a final decision on headquarters location in early 2021, and New Mexico faces some stiff competition. Colorado, Alabama, Florida and Texas are all in the running, among others, and they all have extensive space and defense-related infrastructure, said New Space CEO Casey DeRaad.

But New Mexico also has major assets that make it a formidable contender, including the space-related defense entities that operate at Kirtland, plus extensive military infrastructure in Albuquerque and elsewhere. That includes White Sands Missile Range in southern New Mexico, which offers testing and inland launch capabilities, DeRaad said.

The Starfire Optical Range at Kirtland also offers comprehensive ground-based monitoring of space assets and activity, making it a center of excellence for space domain awareness, DeRaad said. In addition, Sandia National Laboratories and Los Alamos National Laboratory offer high-tech support capabilities, and Kirtland itself offers extensive base infrastructure to accommodate Space Command personnel and their families.

“I think we do have a good chance of coming in among the top contenders,” DeRaad said. “New Mexico is right up there as one of the key places for consideration.”

Contenders must respond by Aug. 31 to the Air Force’s official request for proposals, which was released Aug. 1, said Sherman McCorkle, founder of the Kirtland Partnership Committee. New Mexico will score high on military assets and ability to meet the Space Command’s mission, although other states could offer lucrative cost-cutting incentives to lure the command, potentially outbidding New Mexico, McCorkle added.

New Mexico’s entire congressional delegation is lobbying to land the Space Command.

“New Mexico has a long history of leadership in both space exploration and national defense, dating back to the earliest days of the U.S. space program,” said Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., in a prepared statement. “New Mexico makes perfect sense right now as the best location for the new U.S. Space Command headquarters.”

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