The unveiling ceremony for the Tribute to Freedom monument.
The Tribute to Freedom monument was erected in 2019 as a gateway to the Lackland Air Force Base corridor. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

Recently, the United States Air Force selected San Antonio as one of six finalist communities uniquely equipped to become the permanent headquarters of the U.S. Space Command, which conducts operations in, from, and to space to defend the nation’s vital interests. We could not agree more with the Air Force’s assessment of our exceptional city.

Modern defense requires integration across military branches, commands, industry, and academia, and San Antonio’s already deeply collaborative ecosystem works in support of the Department of Defense’s mission.

Our economy is driven by robust defense, biomedicine, and aerospace sectors, and our rich history includes 140 years of U.S. military presence, represented today by 80,000 active-duty personnel. San Antonio’s research community specializes in information security, aerospace, bioscience, and technology, all while training the highest quality workforce to fill in-demand technology careers.

More than 20 years ago, The University of Texas at San Antonio, the city’s largest public research university, began growing its expertise in cybersecurity. Today, UTSA’s cybersecurity program is recognized as the best in the nation, and more than a dozen research centers and institutes across the university are developing leading solutions to protect governments, businesses, and individuals from cyberattacks.

In the National Security Collaboration Center, for example, more than 40 partners in government, industry, and academia have created a powerful ecosystem to tackle the nation’s greatest cybersecurity threats on land and in space. Co-located within the NSCC, the Cybersecurity Manufacturing Innovation Institute, a $111-million public-private partnership, is supporting the Department of Energy’s mission to secure the global competitiveness of American manufacturers, who are the leading target for nation-state cyberattacks from foreign adversaries.

These assets are just one piece of the city’s defense ecosystem and cybersecurity is only one advantage San Antonio has over the other five finalists selected on the Pentagon’s short list of potential headquarters for the Space Command.

The city also has a thriving aerospace community. Southwest Research Institute, for example, has best-in-class programs to explore the mysteries of the solar system and to develop instruments and software used in space. This work is boosted by SwRI’s research and development expertise in transportation, chemistry and materials, defense and security, and electronics and automation – all in tandem with the graduate program in physics that it jointly offers with UTSA to prepare students for careers in space physics.

Over decades of leading mission development and operations, Institute scientists and engineers have engaged in more than 50 government and commercial missions to date, including NASA and European Space Agency programs. From building spacecraft and satellites to developing technology and software for use in space, SwRI boasts vast experience in supporting spaceflight and planetary science and would serve as a key resource in expanding the capabilities of the Space Command.

Just south of SwRI, more than 14,000 skilled professionals are developing high-tech solutions in aerospace, defense, global logistics, manufacturing, and cybersecurity at Port San Antonio, where the Space Command would be located if our community is chosen. The work underway there builds on San Antonio’s 100-year history of innovation in aircraft modernization and readiness.

The Department of Defense and private-sector firms that directly support it have a large and growing presence on the Port’s 1,900-acre technology campus. Today, the Port is home to the Sixteenth Air Force (Air Forces Cyber), the Air Force Medical Operations Agency, and the Air Force Civil Engineer Center, among other key command operations. 

These DoD entities at Port San Antonio are supported by top names in cybersecurity, aerospace, and applied technologies, all of which are developing innovative solutions in their sectors. Among many new technologies launched at the Port are those that integrate cybersecurity into aircraft platforms and electrical grids.

Additionally, a growing number of firms at the Port are on the leading edge combining robotic, artificial intelligence, and visual sensor capabilities that enhance safety and productivity in sectors like manufacturing, aviation, energy, and defense. All of these and other synergies throughout the campus will offer unparalleled value to the U.S. military as it also seeks to ensure space-based superiority.  

Accelerating convergence and collaboration at the Port, UTSA is now the organization’s principal academic partner. The university’s leading minds are already conducting cutting-edge research in hypersonics, space physics, astrophysics, and advanced materials in collaboration with several organizations on the campus.

At the same time, San Antonio’s bioscience industry, which has an economic impact of $42 billion, is prepared to support the Space Command. UT Health San Antonio, Texas Biomedical Research Institute, SwRI, and UTSA have a proven history of advancing the commercialization of vaccines, therapies, and technologies to improve patient health care. In 2019, our local bioscience community conducted more than 1,400 active clinical studies and published 175 U.S. bioscience patents. This expertise will be vital in helping the U.S. prepare for and mitigate biological threats.

To deliver space combat power and defend U.S., ally and partner interests, the Space Command will need a headquarters with reliable and resilient critical infrastructure. San Antonio is answering this call by becoming the first city in the country to make its grid resilient against catastrophic electromagnetic pulses (EMPs) and other threatening worst-case scenarios.

The initiative, co-led by Joint Base San Antonio and the City of San Antonio, includes more than 200 subject matter experts from the DoD, local government, local utilities, the business community, and academia. As a result, our city’s resilient capabilities will include energy and water in addition to telecommunications, information technology, food distribution, shelter, health care and transportation.

No city integrates better than San Antonio. Here, we have the resources that will offer Space Command a blank canvas on which to build a transformative operation that will define national defense in the century ahead. Here, higher education institutions, research facilities, and the private sector have a proven track record of working with the military to innovate through collaboration – commercializing tech, products, and practices that are essential to the Department of Defense – on and above Earth.

San Antonio has the infrastructure and the experience to get the U.S. Space Command’s operations up and running quickly, cost effectively and with truly unique confluence.

Our community is ready to serve.

Taylor Eighmy is the 6th president of The University of Texas at San Antonio.

Adam L. Hamilton serves as president and CEO of Southwest Research Institute, one of the nation’s largest independent providers of advanced scientific and applied technology solutions.