If a war is ever fought in space, how it is fought is likely to have been tested in a lab under construction near the Colorado Springs Airport.

California-based defense and security research nonprofit Aerospace broke ground Wednesday on a $100 million research and development complex that will house its Space Analysis and Collaboration Center. The center is a collection of up to six conference rooms and a large auditorium where contractors and military officials can try out tactics, techniques and procedures they would use when fighting a war in space.

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The 90,000-square-foot building, which is scheduled for completion in spring 2022, can accommodate 200 technical employees to be hired during the next five years and will be connected with the nonprofit’s 78,000-square-foot offices that opened in 2007. Aerospace employs 240 engineers, scientists, analysts and cybersecurity specialists who provide technical expertise to U.S. Space Force, U.S. Space Command and other military commands on threats to U.S. space assets.

The lab is designed to allow opposing teams and other groups of observers of up to 30 people each in separate conference rooms to simulate war games in space and come together in the auditorium to discuss the results.

The complex will be outfitted with $2 million in software designed to model and simulate the physics of space to show how satellites and other spacecraft would perform using different tactics, designs and concepts, said Jay Santee, vice president of strategic space operations for Aerospace in Colorado Springs.

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“We are watching Russia and China weaponize and prepare for warfighting in space, so we have to do the same,” said Santee, a retired Air Force major general who had served as acting assistant secretary of defense for space policy and operations division chief for a previous U.S. Space Command that was merged with Strategic Command after the Sept. 11 attacks.

“We have never had a space war, so we have to create an environment so we can virtually prepare in case we have one.”

Aerospace completed the first demonstration of what it calls its software “environment” that allows contractors and military personnel to plug new elements into a simulation to see how they interact, Santee said. The war-gaming complex and the rest of the building will be outfitted with the latest digital technology and most of the building will be secured for classified work. It will be one of the largest such facilities in Colorado Springs.

“This building is designed for cutting-edge space war fighting,” said Jean Michael, general manager of Aerospace’s space enterprise and warfighting division in Colorado Springs. “Digital engineering is a foundational capacity for everything we are doing.”

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The war-gaming complex, break room and entry area are housed in the first floor of the new building, with the two upper floors housing offices, collaborative areas and computer, cybersecurity and data analysis labs. The Aerospace site can accommodate up to two other similar buildings, but the nonprofit has no plans for further construction, Santee said.

Maj. Gen. DeAnna Burt, director of operations and communications for the U.S. Space Force, said the new military branch plans to use the facility for advanced training, war gaming and conferences.

“As Space Force and Space Command continue to grow, secure facilities like this are hard to come by. We are always trying to find ways to locate these types of facilities because the availability of them is tight. Our partners like Aerospace are critical to enabling that,” Burt said Wednesday after the groundbreaking ceremony.

Planning for the new research center began before Space Force and U.S. Space Command were formed, so the expansion and additional hiring don’t depend on the Department of Defense selecting Colorado Springs as the permanent headquarters of U.S. Space Command, Santee said. However, the hiring likely will “ramp up more quickly” should the command’s headquarters, now here for at least six years, end up permanently in Colorado Springs, he said.

The Aerospace complex will be the third major project under construction in the airport’s 960-acre Peak Innovation Park. Amazon began construction this year on a nearly 4-million-square-foot distribution and sorting center that will employ at least 1,000 people, and the U.S. Forest Service is building a regional aerial tanker hub to fight wildfires. The park also is home to Northrop Grumman’s Colorado Springs operations, an Amazon delivery station and a military rapid deployment terminal.

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