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What You Need to Know About the U.S. Space Command Controversy

One of former President Donald Trump’s final acts as commander-in-chief was to announce that the headquarters for the military operation would be relocated from Colorado Springs to Huntsville, Alabama—a move that Colorado's congressional delegation is now challenging.

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On February 20, 2020, then President Donald Trump stood alongside former Senator Cory Gardner in front of a crowd of thousands in Colorado Springs and strongly hinted that the area could become the permanent home of the U.S. Space Command. “I love the Air Force Academy. And you have all the infrastructure, so you’re being very strongly considered,” Trump said, adding that a decision on the matter could come by the end of the year. 

Turns out Trump didn’t actually like the idea of Space Command being in Colorado—or at the very least he changed his mind. On January 13, the same day he was impeached for a second time, Trump announced the permanent home of the military operation would be Huntsville, Alabama, despite the fact that Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs had served as its temporary home since 2019. 

Colorado lawmakers didn’t take too kindly to the news. On the day of Trump’s announcement, Governor Jared Polis said it was “deeply concerning” that the enterprise would be moved for seemingly “politically motivated reasons.” And on Tuesday, Colorado’s entire congressional delegation—yes, Democrats and Republicans—asked President Joe Biden to review Trump’s decision. In a letter the group said there is “significant evidence that the process was neither fair nor impartial and that President Trump’s political considerations influenced his final decision.” 

Read on to understand more about the controversy and what the U.S. Space Command’s departure would mean for Colorado. 

What even is the U.S. Space Command?

Space Command’s domain is everything from 60 miles above earth and up. The United States first created Space Command in 1985, but it merged with the U.S. Strategic Command, which is responsible for missile defense, following a military realignment in the wake of 9/11. The operation was reinstated in 2019 with the mission to “protect and defend the space domain.” Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs was established as the temporary home of Space Command at that time, with the Trump administration set to make a decision on its ultimate home soon-thereafter. 

Wait, are you sure it’s not called Space Force?

Yep, we are sure. Space Force and Space Command are technically different. Think of the Space Force like the Marine Corps. Much like the Marines are actually a part of the Navy, members of the Space Force are technically a part of the Air Force. Members of Space Force—which was created by Trump in 2019—can be used to help Space Command, but they might also help out with other combatant commands around the world (think European Command or African Command or Strategic Command). 

Much like those other combatant commands, Space Command focuses on a particular area or theater of war. It’s not a branch of the military like the Army, Navy, or Air Force. It can grow or shrink depending on what the country’s needs are in that moment. And while Space Command missions will certainly include many members of Space Force, the group can also draw from other branches—the Army, Navy, etc.—to help protect the country’s interests in the stars above us. 

Why did it make sense for Colorado Springs to be the temporary home of Space Command?

Honestly, the reasons are myriad on this one. Space Force, which will obviously continue to play a huge role in Space Command operations, is part of the Air Force, and that branch of winged warriors is based in the Springs. 

Schriever Air Force Base—located just 10 miles east of Peterson Air Force Base—has also served as the home of the Space Aggressors, a group within the Air Force that focuses on GPS satellites, likely an important part of any potential space warfare. (Of note: At this point, space warfare isn’t necessarily about putting troops in orbit. It’s more about protecting satellites that are used for communication and surveillance. At least that’s what we’ve been told. They could be up to some top secret stuff.) 

Finally, Colorado has a robust aerospace industry. As of October, there were some 280 aerospace businesses and more than 500 suppliers of space-focused products and services in the state. Some of the sector’s biggest companies, like Lockheed Martin and Ball Aerospace, have major outposts here. Wings Over the Rockies Air & Space Museum has even tried to nickname Colorado “Aerospace Alley” to varying degrees of success.  

So Alabama, huh?

Yeah, we were initially a little confused about it as well. Twenty-seven locations were included in the competition to land Space Command and Huntsville ultimately beat out five finalists, including Peterson Air Force Base in the Springs, Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska, and Kirtland Air Force Base in New Mexico. 

The city, however, does have an extensive history with both space flight and the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD). Huntsville is known as Rocket City because motors for the Saturn V that took astronauts to the moon were tested there. The trial run even shattered some windows. Huntsville has also been called Pentagon South because of the number of DOD employees who work at the Army post known as Redstone Arsenal.

As many angry Colorado lawmakers have noted, though, the Centennial State didn’t exactly show a ton of love for Trump during the 2020 election. The state’s overwhelming support for Biden—he won over 55 percent of the vote to Trump’s 42 percent—could have played a role in the decision to pick Alabama, which overwhelmingly voted for Trump. 

How likely is it that the decision to move to the U.S. Space Command to Alabama gets reversed?

That remains somewhat unclear, but it does seem that everyone but Alabama lawmakers are befuddled by what happened. Leaders in the other states that were finalists have said the process was rushed. The Air Force, which oversaw the search for a headquarters, twice recommended Colorado. And people with extensive knowledge of the DOD have indicated that the new administration will likely explore whether it makes sense to reopen the discussion on where the U.S. Space Command should ultimately be located. So, it doesn’t appear that Alabama is totally a done deal yet. And even if it is, the Space Command will be sticking around in Colorado for some time—Peterson Air Force Base will be the provisional headquarters until 2026.

The Year That Changed Everything

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