Interested communities must be within the top 150 Metropolitan Statistical Areas in the country, be located within 25 miles of a military base and have a minimum score of 50 on the Livability Index published by the American Association of Retired Persons Public Policy Institute.

TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Ron DeSantis has until Tuesday to decide whether he’ll send all or some of the self-nominations from Pensacola and other Florida cities interested in hosting U.S. Space Command headquarters to the Air Force for further consideration.


As of this week’s deadline for sending self-nominations to DeSantis through Space Florida, the state’s aerospace economic development agency, Pensacola is one of eight Florida communities looking to host the headquarters of U.S. Space Command, a unified combatant command under which the Space Force, the Air Force and other branches of the military operate in space.


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Also expressing interest in becoming the home of Space Command are Jacksonville, Miami-Dade County, Orange County, Seminole County, Pinellas County, Brevard County and Tampa-Hillsborough County.


The criteria for hosting U.S. Space Command headquarters location were outlined in a May 14 letter to the nation’s governors from John Henderson, assistant Air Force secretary for installations, environment and energy.


In the letter, Henderson told the governors the Air Force, on behalf of the secretary of defense, "is taking a collaborative approach (to choosing a site for Space Command headquarters) by allowing eligible communities to self-nominate to serve as the host for this critical mission."


Interested communities must be within the top 150 Metropolitan Statistical Areas in the country, be located within 25 miles of a military base and have a minimum score of 50 on the Livability Index published by the American Association of Retired Persons Public Policy Institute.


The Air Force asked interested communities to nominate themselves via a form letter that reads, in part, "After careful review of the screening and evaluation criteria, we believe our community meets all minimum eligibility requirements and would earn a competitive score when assessed against the evaluation criteria. Therefore, we would like to work with your team through the evaluation phase in the coming months."


In addition to the form letter, the Air Force asked governors to provide an indication of state backing for any self-nominations, with a deadline of June 30 for getting any nominations and endorsements to the Air Force.


Perhaps not surprisingly, many of the self-nominating communities went beyond the wording of the form letter in making their case to DeSantis.


As just a couple of examples, the self-nomination letter from Pensacola Mayor Grover C. Robinson IV touted his pride in the city’s "long history of strong community partnership with our military services in the Northwest Florida region ... ." And, of course, Pensacola is host to Naval Air Station Pensacola, long known as the nation’s cradle of naval aviation.


Orange County’s lengthy self-nomination letter, from Mayor Jerry L. Demings, pointed the Air Force to the community’s proximity to the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, a center of space activity, and to its role as an "international leader in military modeling, simulation and training ... ."


In advance of the June 23 deadline for self-nominations to be forwarded to its offices, Space Florida hosted a virtual information session on U.S. Space Command basing eligibility. Held in partnership with Enterprise Florida, the Florida Defense Support Task Force, the Florida Defense Alliance and Keiser University, the event featured a review and discussion of siting criteria for Space Command headquarters.


The information session attracted the attention of 150 people from across the state, including the Panhandle, according to Dale Ketcham, Space Florida’s vice president for government and external relations.


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While U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., who represents Pensacola and a surrounding area of Northwest Florida in Congress, was not a part of the virtual session, he has been an advocate for bringing U.S. Space Command headquarters to Florida.


More recently, Gaetz said it appears that DeSantis has a preference for steering the Air Force to potential U.S. Space Command headquarters sites along Florida’s eastern "Space Coast."


The Air Force had indicated months ago that it had narrowed the list of possible Space Command headquarters locations to Alabama’s Redstone Arsenal, California’s Vandenberg Air Force Base and Colorado’s Peterson Air Force Base, Buckley Air Force Base, Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station and Schriever Air Force Base.


But at a March meeting of the House Armed Services Committee, Secretary of the Air Force Barbara Barrett announced the search would be reopened to give state and local governments a renewed opportunity to pitch for the command headquarters.


It’s not completely clear why the search was reopened, but Barrett’s announcement came after members of Congress from around the country, including Florida, began making pitches for the headquarters.


U.S. Space Command was established in August 2019 as the military’s 11th unified combatant command. It is temporarily headquartered at Peterson Air Force Base.


When Space Command headquarters is fully established, wherever that may be, it will house 1,400 military and civilian personnel.


It’s also important to note that Florida is far from the only state to express interest in hosting the headquarters of U.S. Space Command.


As just one example, Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy, along with Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz, pitched the Air Force on bringing Space Command headquarters to that state.


The letter touts the "state-of-the-art Pacific Spaceport Complex" on Kodiak Island, a 50-minute flight from Anchorage.


"The facility, run by the publicly owned Alaska Aerospace Corporation, has conducted successful space launches since 1998 and is quickly expanding to accommodate the current commercial space boom," the governor and the mayor tell the Air Force.


Also, according to a recent Cincinnati Enquirer story, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine is angling for Space Command headquarters, putting his weight behind a self-nomination for the city of Beavercreek from Mayor Bob Stone.


"DeWine noted the area is already home to the National Air and Space Intelligence Center, Air Force Research Laboratory, Air Force Life Cycle Management Center and Air Force Material Command," the Enquirer reported.