US Senator Martin Heinrich: “ABQ Right Location For Space Command”; City and State Make Pitch For Space Command; The Orion Group Aerospace Development

In December, 2019, President Donald Trump authorized the creation of the United States 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, Colorado.

On November 19, 2020, Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham announced that Albuquerque 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 other Air Force bases located in Colorado, Florida, Nebraska, Alabama and Texas. The other finalists are:

1. Offutt AFB (NE), previously housed the strategic Air Force Command headquarters.
2. Patrick AFB (FL) at Cape Canaveral in Florida, which has 50 years of infrastructure and space-related history.
3. Peterson AFB (CO), the Space Command’s current temporary headquarters.
4. Port San Antonio (TX) which at one time housed three Air Force bases in and around it.
5. Redstone Army Airfield (AL) which also has extensive military infrastructure and a strong congressional delegation to lobby.

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.

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.

New Mexico’s entire congressional delegation is lobbying to locate the Space Command in Albuquerque. In a prepared statement, US Senator Martin Heinrich had this to say when the announcement was made about Albuquerque being on the short list:

“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.”

On Monday, December 21, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller along with the Kirtland Partnership, a nonprofit organization that works to preserve and expand Kirtland Air Force , made a virtual presentation to Pentagon Officials to locate the new U.S. Space Command in Albuquerque.

A link to a related news article is here:


On Sunday, December 20, 2020, the following guest opinion column by US Senator Martin Heinrich was published in the Albuquerque Journal:

“Representatives from the U.S. Air Force and Space Force are beginning to conduct on-site and virtual visits to determine whether Albuquerque is the right place to build the new headquarters for U.S. Space Command. I am convinced they will come to the same conclusion reached by an increasing number of leading private space companies: New Mexico is the future of space.

There’s a reason THEIA Group Inc., a major remote sensing satellite company, chose to build a multibillion, 122-acre spacecraft manufacturing campus right next to Kirtland Air Force Base. There’s a reason SolAero, a manufacturer of nearly half the world’s space solar cells and panels, built a massive facility in Albuquerque. And there is a reason that Applied Technology Associates, an industry-leading developer of space-based systems for the U.S. government, was founded and remains headquartered in Albuquerque.

These companies and other space innovators that employ thousands of New Mexicans are invested in our state not because they’ve been lured here by tax incentives – in fact, THEIA applied for none prior to committing to New Mexico. They chose New Mexico as the home base of their operations because of the unique features that make the state the nation’s premier location to build and grow organizations focused on space innovation.

They understand how important it is to be located next door to other leading space R&D companies in a location rich with space-based human talent. They recognize how valuable it is to work alongside the nation’s leading program management and acquisition entities already located at Albuquerque’s Kirtland Air Force Base.

Leading public and private space innovators based inside and outside the fence at Kirtland have repeatedly set the standard for how to develop novel space technologies at the speed of relevance. The Air Force Research Lab’s Space Vehicles Directorate, the Space Rapid Capabilities Office and many small, medium and large private companies centered near Kirtland are national leaders in space research and development.

Our state’s reasonable cost of living, high quality of life with ready access to the outdoors, and the availability of land for new facilities make the state a smart place to put down roots. We have also developed an exceptional training pipeline for a science and engineering workforce thanks to strong partnerships that join the STEM programs at our community colleges, the University of New Mexico, New Mexico State University and New Mexico Tech and private industry, our national laboratories, NASA’s White Sands Test Facility and Spaceport America.”

The link to the Heinrich opinion column is here:


In addition to the advantages outlined by Senator Heinrich for locating the Space Command, , there are a number of assets and services offered by Kirtland Air Force Base. Kirkland already houses six Air Force commands. Those commands include the global strike, air combat, materiel, education and training, special operations, and space system commands. The Defense Threat Reduction Agency’s Missile Defense Agency, National Assessment Group and Joint Navigation Warfare Center are also located at Kirkland.

Many of the agencies managed by those commands are directly focused on space. That includes the Space Rapid Capabilities Office and the Air Force Research Laboratory’s Space Vehicles Directorate, which are at the forefront of developing, rapidly deploying and operating defense-related space systems.

There are others that directly contribute to space technology and management, including AFRL’s Directed Energy Directorate, which develops laser systems, high power electromagnetics and electro-optics that are critical to space systems. AFRL’s Directed Energy Directorate also operates the Star Fire Optical Range at Kirtland which is a center of excellence for space domain awareness that offers comprehensive ground-based monitoring of space assets and activity.

There are other research assets at the base, including Sandia National Laboratories, Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) and the National Nuclear Security Administration that oversees Sandia Labs and LANL operations. And DOE’s Office of Secure Transport for nuclear.


There is no doubt that New Mexico is a world-class research center with two DOE labs, the AFRL, and three research universities. According to the New Mexico Partnership, the city and state has a highly skilled workforce in place consisting of nearly 36,000 people employed in science, computer, math and engineering. The proportion of local workforce employed in science jobs is 1.7 times higher than in the U.S. overall, and employment in engineering specifically is 1.5 times higher.

The link to a related news source is here:


The Space Command if in fact located here along with the Orion Group Aerospace development will make Albuquerque within just a matter of a few years an aerospace space industry juggernaut.

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.


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 6 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 juggernaut is clearly in the stars.

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 January 5 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.


On Wednesday, January 13, it was reported that the U.S. Air Force chose Huntsville, Alabama, over five other states including New Mexico to locate the new U.S. Space Command.

In an official announcement Wednesday afternoon, the Air Force said Huntsville compared more favorably against the other states in providing a large qualified workforce, quality schools, superior infrastructure capacity, and low initial recurring costs. Alabama also offered a facility to support the Space Command headquarters at no cost while a permanent facility is constructed.

After speaking with Manasco, however, Heinrich said he was very disturbed by the Air Force process that culminated in choosing Alabama, which he said seemed like it was rushed to reach a final decision before President Donald Trump leaves office next week.

“I’m utterly disappointed with this process. … I don’t think it (Huntsville) was a logical place to choose for the Space Command. It seems clear to me that this was the least-deliberative Air Force basing decision I’ve been a part of.”

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Pete Dinelli was born and raised in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He is of Italian and Hispanic descent. He is a 1970 graduate of Del Norte High School, a 1974 graduate of Eastern New Mexico University with a Bachelor's Degree in Business Administration and a 1977 graduate of St. Mary's School of Law, San Antonio, Texas. Pete has a 40 year history of community involvement and service as an elected and appointed official and as a practicing attorney in Albuquerque. Pete and his wife Betty Case Dinelli have been married since 1984 and they have two adult sons, Mark, who is an attorney and George, who is an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT). Pete has been a licensed New Mexico attorney since 1978. Pete has over 27 years of municipal and state government service. Pete’s service to Albuquerque has been extensive. He has been an elected Albuquerque City Councilor, serving as Vice President. He has served as a Worker’s Compensation Judge with Statewide jurisdiction. Pete has been a prosecutor for 15 years and has served as a Bernalillo County Chief Deputy District Attorney, as an Assistant Attorney General and Assistant District Attorney and as a Deputy City Attorney. For eight years, Pete was employed with the City of Albuquerque both as a Deputy City Attorney and Chief Public Safety Officer overseeing the city departments of police, fire, 911 emergency call center and the emergency operations center. While with the City of Albuquerque Legal Department, Pete served as Director of the Safe City Strike Force and Interim Director of the 911 Emergency Operations Center. Pete’s community involvement includes being a past President of the Albuquerque Kiwanis Club, past President of the Our Lady of Fatima School Board, and Board of Directors of the Albuquerque Museum Foundation.