Colorado Springs will keep U.S. Space Command for at least six years under a plan announced Friday by Republican U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn.
The agreement comes with new guidelines for housing the command overseeing military missions in orbit that lean heavily toward it being permanently based in Colorado Springs, said Lamborn, who sits on the House Armed Services Committee.
The Pentagon is expected to announce its preferred location in early 2021.
Friday's move means that for the next six years Colorado Springs will be the "provisional" home of Space Command, a status with somewhat more permanence than its previous "temporary" designation.
“Based on the criteria, I am thoroughly confident that Colorado Springs remains the best home for Space Command, especially as the space defense industry and space operations infrastructure in our community continue to grow,” Lamborn said.
The command brings more than 1,400 troops and civilian workers, along with potentially billions of dollars to the Pikes Peak region, where a supporting network of contractors is expected to congregate.
“Overall, I think it is good news,” said Reggie Ash, who oversees defense programs for the Colorado Spring Chamber of Commerce & EDC.
"We thank the administration for recognizing the space infrastructure and strong workforce in Colorado Springs by selecting us as the provisional location for the next six years," he said. "We’re excited to see the Air Force’s criteria for permanent basing of U.S. Space Command. We’re confident the Air Force will determine Colorado Springs will score very high in all categories."
Colorado Springs has been home to the military's top space units since the 1980s, including an earlier Space Command that was shut down after the 9/11 attacks. The new U.S. Space Command was formed as part of a Trump administration effort to boost America's military dominance in orbit amid rising threats from rival nations, including Russia and China.
The command is similar to regional combat commands that oversee military missions in the Middle East and the Pacific. It will get many of its troops from the Space Force, which was formed in December as a separate service branch to house the military's satellite troops.
Gen. Jay Raymond oversees the Space Force and U.S. Space Command at its headquarters at Peterson Air Force Base.
The Air Force is allowing communities to compete for the command, but the criteria favor Colorado, including requirements that the command be placed near military bases with space assets, provide an appropriate workforce and have high-security facilities and communications capabilities that few other than Colorado possess.
Colorado Republican U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner said Colorado Springs, with decades of running satellite operations for the Pentagon, is a natural choice to house the command permanently.
“Today’s announcement is historic for Colorado and the future of U.S. military operations in space," Gardner said in an email, adding, "But we can't rest on our laurels."
Colorado Springs, which is home to two bases housing the bulk of the new Space Force and Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station, with an underground bunker, was initially picked to house the command in a process that was later scuttled by political wrangling.
Lamborn said Colorado Springs has an early lead because of billions of dollars of infrastructure the Pentagon has poured into the region. There's more on the way, with $184 million being spent on a new space operations building at Schriever Air Force Base east of Colorado Springs.
"We have a head start as a community in that we already have the supporting facilities you need for this headquarters," Lamborn said. "Anyone who is trying to catch up with us will find it difficult."
Alabama, with its powerful congressional delegation, wants to lure the command to Huntsville, which is home to Army space efforts and NASA facilities.
Florida, which has launch facilities for the military and NASA along its “Space Coast,” also entered the fray.
Lamborn said the political power of those two states will matter less in a process that's run based on strict Pentagon criteria.
"They do have some political firepower there's no question about that," Lamborn said. "But there's no way they can meet all of the criteria above Colorado Springs."
President Donald Trump inserted himself into the decision process in a February campaign stop in Colorado Springs. He promised to make a basing decision this year.
Lamborn said he's glad that decision is now pushed back until after the November election, which will determine whether Trump gets a second term and could see a political power shift in Congress, where Democrats control the House and Republicans have the majority in the Senate.
"I am glad that it is being put past the election at this point," he said. "It helps take the politics out of it."
Just before Trump's February campaign rally in Colorado Springs, Gov. Jared Polis climbed the stairs onto Air Force One to personally lobby the president to leave the command here.
"This is great news for our state and I will continue urging the president and the Air Force to make Colorado the permanent home of U.S. Space Command," Polis said in an email. "Colorado is home to a proud military community, a critical aerospace industry, an educated workforce and prestigious research institutions, so we are the natural and best home for U.S. Space Command.”
The Colorado Thirty Group, a coalition of military boosters that leans on Congress for the state's military needs, cheered the announcement.
"Colorado Thirty Group is proud to have been a small part of this effort and sends our heartiest congratulations to everyone who helped make this possible," the group's chairman, Don Addy, said in an email.
The criteria for permanently housing the command after the six-year provisional period will also require the Pikes Peak region to meet quality of life standards and the Pentagon will assess community support.
Gardner said he's talking with state lawmakers about moves that can help Colorado stand out in those categories, too, with laws that make it easier for military spouses to find jobs and more roadwork to further fix Colorado 94, which connects Peterson and Schriever.
"We’ll continue to press for all of Colorado’s needs," Gardner said. "I also think the state Legislature can play a role in this in doing a better job on meeting some of the criteria they have laid out."
Mayor John Suthers voiced confidence after the announcement Friday.
"This is a city with a long and proud military history, an incredible amount of infrastructure and a wealth of experience and talent in regard to the military in space," he said in an email. "We anxiously await the designation as the permanent home of U.S. Space Command."