The military will evaluate several factors as it decides where to place the U.S. Space Command. Here’s how the six sites named as finalists Tuesday stack up on various criteria listed in government documents:
Cost: Colorado Springs has an easy lead here, because it is alhome to the military’s top space units. So facilities required to manage satellites are built and won’t need to be duplicated. Schriever Air Force Base, which includes the National Space Defense Center, even has building space that could hold the headquarters, once a proposed $77 million space operations center is built. Peterson has similar advantages and might offer the real estate to do the job, too.
Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station also could meet the requirements, as it has the space mission built in thanks to strong Air Force Space Command ties. But the 5 acres of office space tunneled beneath 2,000 feet of granite poses a remodeling nightmare. Office buildings are on the site, but it’s unclear if they would fit the new command.
Buckley Air Force Base in Aurora, home to the secretive Aerospace Data Facility, which consolidates intelligence gathered by satellites, also has the communications links but would need significant construction.
Vandenberg Air Force Base near Lompoc, Calif., has lots of room and a strong space mission but few of the facilities it would take to house the command.
The Army’s Redstone Arsenal, near Huntsville, Ala., home of missile defense programs, would need facilities in a big way.
People: The military has no desire to put a ton of troops and civilians on the move to start a new command.
Colorado has 350 troops who will be part of the command, and the interim headquarters is being established at Peterson and Schriever. That means the people you would need to run it are home in the shadow of Pikes Peak.
Buckley, which is close to the big aerospace firms around Denver, could fill the bill but with a bit more difficulty.
Next up is Vandenberg, which has a strong aerospace community and elements that would fall under the new command. But the military still would have to move a slew of people to California, known for its sky high cost of living, a big negative.
Redstone is buoyed by the rock-bottom cost of living in Alabama. The average Colorado Springs home would buy three houses in Huntsville, where the median house price is $87,000.
But Huntsville, despite its “Rocket City” moniker, might not have enough of the right space experts. And enticing those people to the Deep South poses problems.
Environment: The military wants to ensure road capacity for commuters, reliable utilities, good schools and jobs for spouses. This is where Colorado Springs really shines.
The Pikes Peak region is home to great schools that consistently earn military plaudits, and recent initiatives by city and state transportation officials are seeing quick fixes for the region’s roads. A city the size of Colorado Springs has ample resources to support another 1,450. While housing here costs more than in Alabama, there’s plenty of it. And then there’s the job market. With unemployment sitting at 2.7 percent, the Pikes Peak region is well in the lead.
For Buckley, traffic could pose an issue. Think I-225 in rush hour.
Alabama has some advantages. It is really cheap. But unemployment is higher and median incomes lower. And the schools rank 47th in the nation.
California has more traffic, higher prices and fewer jobs. That could make Vandenberg trail in environmental categories.
Show them the love: Another big issue for the military is putting the headquarters in a community that will love its troops.
Colorado Springs has traditionally fared wonderfully in the category, with nonprofits, governments and local businesses bending over backward for troops. It also helps that Colorado’s federal lawmakers and the governor are pushing to get the command here. That same tide will boost Buckley.
Alabama fares well here, too. The community in the past offered cash to help the military, and no one loves their troops quite like the South.
California could trail, however. The state hasn’t been as vocal or public with its praise of the military. And with such a massive population in Southern California, it’s hard to see state leaders giving away the store for 1,450 jobs.