As farfetched as the headline sounds, the city and state could, within just a matter of a few years, become an aerospace space industry heavy weight.
On November 19, Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham announced in a prepared statement that Albuquerque has made the short list of cities nationwide that the U.S. Air Force is considering to permanently locate the new U.S. Space Command. Albuquerque was one of 31 cities that the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) said last summer it would consider in an initial round of screening for potential locations.
Albuquerque’s Kirkland Air Force base is now competing against 5 Air Force bases in Colorado, Florida, Nebraska, Alabama and Texas. The other finalists are:
Offutt AFB (NE), previously housed the strategic Air Force Command headquarters.
Patrick AFB (FL) at Cape Canaveral in Florida, which has 50 years of infrastructure and space-related history.
Peterson AFB (CO), the Space Command’s current temporary headquarters.
Port San Antonio (TX) which at one time housed three Air Force bases in and around it.
Redstone Army Airfield (AL) which also has extensive military infrastructure and a strong congressional delegation to lobby.
The new Space Command where ever it is located would bring more than 1,000 new, high paying jobs. It will also bring billions in federal and military spending and contracts for local companies. Albuquerque’s chances to secure the Space Command are considered very good given New Mexico’s extensive military and space-related assets.
Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham had this to say in her prepared statement about the city making the cut:
“We are excited to hear that Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque has been selected as one of the final candidates for the new Space Command headquarters. … Our state’s strong and growing role in space exploration, space science and national security related space matters puts it in a strong position to become the home of the new Space Command. We look forward to working with the Department of Defense in the weeks and months ahead.”
The US Department of Defense in an announcement said will begin virtual and in person site surveys in the coming weeks. The Defense Department said the goal is to announce in January a list of up to three alternative sites.
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LOOKING FOR A PERMANENT HEADQUARTERS
In December, 2019, President Donald Trump authorized the new United States Space Force. The Space Command is separate from the Space Force. The Space Force is now the 6th branch of the United States military. The Department of Defense established the Space Command in August 2019. It is the military’s 11th unified combatant command and is temporarily located at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs.
Last May, the U.S. Air Force officially launched a competition to choose a new, permanent command headquarters for the United Stated Space Command. In June, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and Mayor Tim Keller jointly submitted a letter proposing Albuquerque as the new location for the headquarters.
On August 4, the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) announced Albuquerque was one of 31 locations nationwide that the DOD was considering to set up the new headquarters. The city was considered as a potential candidate for the headquarters in the formal evaluation process.
When the announcement was made that the City was on the list of 31 locations, Lujan Grisham said in a prepared statement:
“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. … I am excited that Albuquerque and our state are moving forward in this process.”
THE CITY AND THE STATE A NATURAL FOR HEADQUARTERS
According to news sources, the Space Command is a unified “combatant command that coordinates all branches of the military when conducting operations in, from or through space.” The command will oversee all military space operations, whether that’s deterring aggression or defeating adversaries in an attack.
New Mexico has numerous space-related defense entities housed at Kirtland Air Force Base that make the city a natural for the headquarters. Those entities include 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 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.
New Mexico has other major assets that make it a natural for the headquarters, including the space-related defense entities that operate at Kirtland and extensive military infrastructure in Albuquerque and elsewhere in the state. That includes White Sands Missile Range in southern New Mexico, which offers missile defense testing and inland launch capabilities. 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.
NEW MEXICO’S CONGRESSIONAL DELEGATION
New Mexico’s entire congressional delegation is lobbying to land the Space Command. In a prepared statement, US Senator Martin Heinrich had this to say:
“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 … New Mexico makes perfect sense right now as the best location for the new U.S. Space Command headquarters.”
THE ORION GROUP AEROSPACE COMPANY DEVELOPMENT
On Thursday, November 12, the City of Albuquerque Environmental Planning Commission approved the new site plan for the “Orion Center.” It is an aerospace and technology facility that will be built on the 122-acre plot of land located between Kirtland Air Force Base and Albuquerque International Sunport. “Group Orion”, the developer, is a subsidiary of Theia Group Inc., a Washington D.C. based, privately held aerospace company. The Theia Group is attempting to develop a network of satellites to digitally image and collect data on the physical world, providing solutions in areas from logistics to biology.
The mass area acreage was originally where the North-South airport runway was located. The land has now been designated for industrial development by the city. In 2017 after the runway was removed, the City named the acreage as the “Aviation Center for Excellence”. The city began to offer the vacant land area for commercial and office developers.
According to city officials, the city will seek to secure permission from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and complete a lease agreement with “The Group Orion” for the property. Group Orion is seeking to build a “campus” like facility that will include a 2 million square foot manufacturing center, an eight-story office and laboratory building, a new food hall and an extended-stay hotel. The campus will be named the Orion Center. Other long-term developments and expansion is envisioned. The campus as originally envisioned is to house 1,000 jobs once it opens. The plans submitted to the City on behalf of Group Orion includes a 2,500 jobs expansion plan.
The campus will have a number of separate buildings, spread out on both sides of Girard Boulevard, south of Gibson Boulevard. The square footage size of the campus is estimated to be 4.1 million square feet spread out across a total of 6 buildings to be built. The focal point of the campus will be an assembly building consisting of a 2 million square-foot, single-story building that will serve as the company’s main manufacturing and testing center.
Plans for the campus also include an 8-story building that will include laboratories, offices and additional assembly space. Plans on the western side of the campus call for an “extended stay” hotel to house new hires and other guests, a food hall for employees and an 8 story parking garage. A skybridge over Girard to help employees cross the street safely is also being proposed.
Group Orion has hired local engineers and has paid the city $125,000 as a retainer to hold the land. If the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) approves the Center, then construction of the Orion Center could start in spring 2021 with the projected opening of the campus being in 2023.
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
According to the city’s Economic Development Department, the global space economy is projected to be worth $3 trillion by 2045. With the announcements that Albuquerque is one of 5 finalists for the new Department of Defense U.S. Space Command and that the Orion Group aerospace company is planning to establish a major manufacturing center near the Albuquerque International Sunport, the city and state’s emerging national standing as a space industry powerhouse is clearly in the stars. (Please excuse the pun.)
Come January 20, President Joe Biden will become the next President of the United States. With any luck, Democrats will also control the United States Senate if Georgia elects two Democrat United States Senators in the December run off. With that said, the New Mexico congressional delegation will have its work cut out for it to make sure the new Space Command headquarters is located in Albuquerque.
TO INFINITY AND BEYOND!
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