Saturday, January 10, 2009

Week in review (01/04 to 01/10)

For those who believe the area between Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans and Stennis Space Center in Mississippi will one day develop into a high-tech, space-related corridor - much like the corridor in Huntsville, Ala. - a small step in that direction was taken during the past week.

Northrop Grumman’s 3001 International broke ground Wednesday on a new 20,000 square-foot facility in Slidell, La., the town between Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans and Stennis Space Center, Miss. The new office consolidates the existing Slidell 3001 office with the office the company had at Stennis Space Center. The new operation brings with it 50 new positions.

Northrop in October 2008 bought 3001, a provider of geospatial data production and analysis, including airborne imaging, surveying, mapping and geographic information systems. Northrop highlighted the acquisition in October at the U.S. Geospatial Intelligence Foundation's symposium in Nashville.

So is this a negative for Stennis, seeing 3001 leave? Not in the least. Companies at the Mississippi Enterprise for Technology, a business incubator and technology transfer operation at Stennis, are expected to one day leave and grow outside the incubator. That's chalked up as a success. That's the whole purpose of an incubator.

Now consider the context: NASA hopes to eventually see the unused acreage around Michoud – there’s about 800 acres – develop into an advanced manufacturing research park. And there's good reason to think this way. At the center of this park is the National Center for Advanced Manufacturing, a NASA/state/academia/industry partnership. On top of that, the University of New Orleans plans to create a research park in Slidell, similar to the UNO Research and Technology Park on UNO's campus. And just outside Stennis there's Stennis International Airport Airpark and the still-developing Stennis Technology Park.

Alliance Insight, the quarterly newsletter from the Mississippi Gulf Coast Alliance for Economic Development, has a background story you may want to read. The story appeared in the January 2008 issue.

None of this will happen overnight. It certainly didn't in Huntsville. If you're not familiar with what happened in that north Alabama city, let me give you the short version. That city in the '60s began to leverage the presence of NASA and the Army missile experts to create one of the most technology-oriented economies in the nation. An early decision to turn 3,000 acres into a research park, along with the development of a Huntsville campus of the University of Alabama, helped transform the city. Today, Cummings Research Park is the second largest research park in the nation and fourth largest in the world.

Thinking this region can do the same is the first step towards making it happen.

--Also during the week, NASA named Patrick Scheuermann as the deputy director of John C. Stennis Space Center, NASA's primary testing ground for propulsion systems. The promotion of Scheuermann, the center's associate director since August 2006, became effective Dec. 21. Scheuermann previously was chief operating officer of Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans. It's likely Scheuermann and others will be working for a new boss later this month. NASA Administrator Mike Griffin last week turned in notice that he'll be leaving Jan. 20. He doesn't expect to be offered a chance to stay on after President-elect Barack Obama takes office.

In another NASA-related item, the agency last week issued a request for proposals for the Ares V rocket. The rocket will perform heavy lift and cargo functions as part of the next generation of spacecraft that will return humans to the moon - the Constellation Project. Proposals are due to NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., Feb. 9. Selections will be made in the spring of 2009.

--Northrop Grumman in the past week announced it has combined seven units into five to lower costs. The Integrated Systems group was combined with Space Technology to form the Aerospace Systems unit. The Information Technology and Mission Systems groups have combined as Information Systems. The new aerospace unit includes Moss Point, Miss., and other facilities that build the Global Hawk and Fire Scout unmanned aerial systems. 3001 International falls into the Information Systems group. At the end of the week Boeing announced steps it will take to reduce costs. The commercial aircraft sector of Boeing will drop 4,500 positions this year. It doesn’t appear it will have an impact on Boeing's operations in New Orleans or Northwest Florida, which are involved in space and weapons systems, respectively.

--All-quadrant 7.62mm Gatling guns are on track to be installed underneath seven Air Force Special Operations Command CV-22 Ospreys this year. The 413th Flight Test Squadron is testing the turret-mounted gun at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., and the system has passed a series of tests. Critics had complained that the craft had no all-quadrant weapons, but in 2007 a contract was awarded to BAE Systems to deliver seven Remote Guardian Systems and install them onto CV-22 Ospreys for AFSOC deployments.

In another weapons-related news item, Lockheed Martin successfully conducted the first live warhead ground launch test of the DAGR guidance kit for the 2.75-inch rocket. Conducted at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., the test demonstrated DAGR's vehicle penetration and time-delayed fuzing feature. Lockheed Martin engineers fired a DAGR-equipped rocket armed with a live warhead at a stationary vehicle. It penetrated the side of the vehicle before detonating inside. The system is designed for rotary-wing Hellfire platforms, including the Cobra, Apache, Seahawk, Kiowa and Tiger.

--Also during the week, Building 22 at Eglin Air Force Base has been renamed the Register Physical Sciences Center, in honor of the late Henry I. Register. Register spent more than 50 years at Eglin and was one of the pioneers of laser-guided smart weapons.

--At least four contracts were awarded during the week with some connection to the Gulf Coast Aerospace Corridor. The Boeing Co. received two contracts totaling $217.1 million from the Department of Defense for continued production of more than 4,000 Joint Direct Attack Munition tail kits and 2,500 Small Diameter Bombs and associated carriages; Northrop Grumman won a contract for $13.4 million for engineering, manufacturing and development activities in support of the Global Hawk Program; Lockheed Martin and the Coast Guard exercised contract options valued at $13.25 million to install mission systems aboard two additional HC-130J aircraft used in the Deepwater Program; and Raytheon was awarded a $12.2 million contract by Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., to provide a miniature air launched decoy jammer Block II program contract for a 14-month concept refinement study for data link and increased effective radiated power.

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