Advocates of Vandenberg Air Force base as the headquarters for the U.S. military’s new Space Command say they’re not giving up, despite the omission of the Lompoc-area base from the list of finalists for the site.
The U.S. Air Force announced its finalists on Nov. 19. The six locations are in New Mexico, Nebraska, Florida, Colorado, Texas and Alabama.
Vandenberg was one of 24 locations that was self-nominated by their local communities to serve as the headquarters. Its bid was led by Reach, a nonprofit regional economic planning group.
Despite being passed over as a finalist, Reach will continue to advocate on behalf of Vandenberg, said Andrew Hackleman, the group’s vice president.
“Frankly we did expect to be on the list of finalists,” Hackleman told the Business Times. “But we don’t think this is over yet. We think Vandenberg is such a perfect spot.”
In 2019, the U.S. Air Force had selected Vandenberg’s base as one of the three finalist locations for the new Space Command headquarters. The other two spots on the list were in Alabama and Colorado.
The governors of Florida and Texas protested the decision, Hackleman said, prompting the Air Force to go over its process again.
This time around, California’s Vandenberg base was the only location removed from the original list. According to Hackleman, local and state officials are asking to review the guidelines for this decision.
These officials include Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, Sen. Dianne Feinstein and U.S. Rep. Salud Carbajal.
“Political pressure from other states led for that process to be redone, and we don’t understand how the criteria changed or how we were scored relative to other places, so that’s something we’d like to find out,” Hackleman said.
The Air Force will now evaluate each location, both virtually and on-site, and make its final decision in early 2021.
Hackleman said no matter what location is chosen, Reach will continue advocating for Vandenberg. He said the Biden administration could also play a role in the final decision, as the headquarters won’t be operational until 2026.
“We don’t think it’s over until it’s over and we think, ultimately, it will be the next administration that will make that call,” Hackleman said. “Different states have different cost of living and different advantages and disadvantages but at the end of the day, decisions for the location of a headquarters like this should be made based on the merits and the needs of national security. And we think that Vandenberg rises to the very top of that list and ultimately should be selected.”
If Vandenberg is selected, the Central Coast would reap huge economic benefits. The $1 billion headquarters project would bring in 1,400 service members contributing to the local economy, and millions of dollars in contracts and services for construction and design, engineering, healthcare, tech, and mission-related activities for firms across the region.
It would also be a boost toward establishing a thriving commercial space industry, attracting high-quality jobs in an industry expected to grow worth $3 trillion over the next 30 years, according to Reach. Reach is in year one of its 10-year economic development plan, which includes building a space enterprise at Vandenberg. The nonprofit aims to develop a spaceport master plan, and the base has outlined seven key projects such as new administrative facilities, new launch pads and a dedicated commercial zone at its perimeter to help it compete for launches by private firms.
“The Space Command headquarters is great and it’s a huge deal, but that’s as a Combined Force Space Component Command, one of two key pieces of the Space Command organization overseeing services like GPS navigation, satellite communications and missile warning systems.
Vandenberg also plays a key role for SpaceX, Elon Musk’s aerospace company. SpaceX currently operates Vandenberg’s Space Launch Complex 4, which has two landing pads, both of which are used for Falcon 9 launch operations. SpaceX launched one of those rockets Nov. 21, and it’s re-entry into the atmosphere caused a sonic boom heard throughout the Central Coast.