Saturday, January 31, 2009

Week in review (1/25 to 1/31)

It's an activity in the Gulf Coast region you don't hear about very much. It's not high profile like Stennis' rocket engine test stands, Keesler's Hurricane Hunters, Pensacola's Blue Angels or the weapons testing programs at Eglin. But it’s been keeping an eye on space for 40 years.

It's Eglin Air Force Base’s “Site C-6.” A rededication ceremony for the site was held this month marking four decades of space surveillance with its Phased Array Radar. The vice commander of Air Force Space Command was in town for the event.

Construction of the site got underway in 1962, and in 1968 the 20th Surveillance Squadron began tracking satellites. From 1971 to 1984 the squadron was the Alternative Space Surveillance Center and provided computational support to Cheyenne Mountain Air Station, Colo. In 1975 the 20 SURS began to monitor for submarine-launched ballistic missiles and space surveillance was a secondary mission, and in 1988 it began tracking deep space satellite.

The unit was renamed the 20th Space Control Squadron in 2003, and the next year it assumed responsibility for 20 SPCS Detachment-1 in Dahlgren, Va., and the AN/FPS-133 Space Surveillance Radar Fence located along the 33d parallel of the United States. The 20th Space Control Squadron today tracks more than 16,000 near-Earth and deep-space objects for the 21st Space Wing, Peterson Air Force Base, Colo. (Story)

- TANKER: The aerial tanker project came back into the news during the past week when Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., visited Mobile, Ala., to take a look at the Brookley Industrial Complex site where Northrop Grumman and teammate EADS hope to build tankers for the Air Force. One of the more notable comments he made after the visit was learning that cargo planes would also be built in Mobile if Northrop/EADS wins the contract.

Murtha said that the Pentagon is moving forward and expects to have a request for proposals in the spring, but he said some alternatives are being considered on Capitol Hill. The Mobile Press-Register reported that during the luncheon, Murtha said the Air Force should buy aircraft from both Boeing and Northrop/EADS to break the stalemate. Murtha said he's convinced that's the best alternative, but he has to convince others.

The $40 billion tanker project has been hanging around for a long time now. The Northrop/EADS team won the contract last February to build the tankers in Mobile, but a Boeing protest was upheld. The Pentagon later decided to let the new administration take on the issue. Aviation Week during the week reported that the option of a split buy has been picking up steam on Capitol Hill. The Pentagon has opposed duel-sourcing, but some are beginning to think a split buy is the only politically palatable way to move forward.

One thing that occurred during the week that may make it more palatable for Boeing to split the tanker project was EADS' decision not to bid on the contract to supply the wide-body jets that will serve as Air Force One. The Pentagon invited the European Aeronautic Defence and Space Co. to submit a bid, but EADS said during the week that it wants to remain focused on military contracts. In this region, EADS builds helicopters for the U.S. Army in Columbus, Miss., and EADS CASA has a maintenance center in Mobile and an Airbus Engineering Center.

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said he plans to meet with top Air Force officials in the next few weeks to begin planning for a rematch to replace the KC-135 tankers. This promises to be a major story throughout the year.

- SPACE: The first Space-Based Infrared System geosynchronous orbit satellite, built by Lockheed Martin for the Air Force, has completed a key test using new flight software. The SBIRS program provides early warning of missile launches, technical intelligence and battlespace awareness. The spacecraft eventually will be launched aboard an Atlas V. One of the SBIRS work locations is the Lockheed Martin Space & Technology Center at Stennis Space Center, Miss., which provides the core system for the satellite.

Incremental steps forward also occurred during the week for the Constellation Program, a crucial program for both Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans and Stennis Space Center in Mississippi. Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne’s Common Extensible Cryogenic Engine successfully demonstrated capabilities required for NASA’s Altair lunar lander during ground testing in West Palm Beach, Fla. Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne has an operation at Stennis.

The High Bay Facility of the Operations & Checkout Building at Kennedy Space Center, Fla., is getting closer to building the new Orion crew exploration vehicle. Built in 1964, the O&C facility has been the final integration and checkout building for manned spacecraft. The State of Florida, Lockheed Martin and NASA invested $55 million renovate the facility for the Constellation Program. Flight hardware being fabricated nationwide will be integration at the O&C facility. Among the hardware will be large structures and composite parts for Orion fabricated at the Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans.

There was also a setback of sorts during the week for an innovative program being developed at Andrews Institute in Gulf Breeze, Fla. Gov. Charlie Crist asked for an inspector general's inquiry to see if the director of a new space-tourism medical program at the institute got his job after setting up the $500,000 in state grants to create it.

- MILITARY: Naval Air Station Pensacola had a $1.15 billion economic impact on local communities, according to an impact report. The base employed more than 21,000 military, civilian and contract employees in 2008. The report combined salaries for military, civilian and contract personnel along with local contract spending to reach the total. Other bases in the region include NAS Whiting Field in Milton, Eglin Air Force Base and Hurlburt Field, near Fort Walton Beach, Fla., and Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi, Miss. The Navy is also the largest tenant at Stennis Space Center, Miss.

The Navy held a public meeting during the week in Summerdale, Ala., to discuss how the Navy’s new training aircraft may impact residents who live near outlying fields. About 200 people showed up at the Summerdale Community Center. The Navy is upgrading its trainer to a more powerful T-6B, and that will require more runway space at outlying fields.

Two pilots from F-16 Fighting Falcon squadrons at Luke Air Force Base, Texas, are among the pilots tapped to form the initial cadre for the F-35 Lightning II. The Marine Corps earlier this month selected six pilots for their version of the F-35 and will arrive at Eglin later this year or early next.

Keesler Air Force Base airmen and two WC-130J Hurricane Hunter aircraft deployed to Anchorage, Alaska, in early January for a month-long mission in support of the 2009 Winter Storm Reconnaissance Program. The 403rd Wing team includes Reserve aircrews, operations, maintenance, aerial porters, and others to improve winter storm forecast models.

- EARNINGS: Three companies with operations in the Gulf Coast Aerospace Corridor released fourth-quarter earnings reports during the week. Massachusetts-based Raytheon Co., which has operations in Northwest Florida, reported $466 million in adjusted income from continuing operations; Chicago-based Boeing, which has operations in New Orleans and Northwest Florida, reported fourth quarter revenues declined 27 percent to $12.7 billion; Virginia-based General Dynamics, which has operations in Northwest Florida and Stone County, Miss., reported fourth quarter revenue increased to $7.9 billion.

- CONTRACTS: Three defense contracts of interest to the Gulf Coast region were awarded during the week. The largest was a $276 million contract awarded by the Air Force to Los Angeles-based Northrop Grumman for operations and maintenance support of the RQ-4 Global Hawk. The UAVs are made in part in Moss Point, Miss.; Orlando, Fla.-based Hensel Phelps Construction was awarded a $121.1 million contract for construction of the Special Forces Complex at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla.; Kentucky-based L3 Communications Corp., Integrated Systems Joint Operations won a $6.1 million Air Force contract exercising an option for the production and installation of dual rails to the MC-130P. The work will be performed in Crestview and Fort Walton Beach, Fla.

- TEAMING UP: Companies with ties to this region also signed contracts with one another. Minnesota-based Alliant Techsystems agreed to a $200 million contract with Rolls-Royce to produce composite aft fan cases for the new Trent XWB engine that will power the Airbus A350 XWB. Trent XWB engines will be tested at Stennis Space Center, Miss., beginning in 2010 or 2011. Both ATK and Rolls-Royce have operations in the Gulf Coast; Airbus selected Goodrich for two projects. In one, Goodrich will supply wheels and carbon brakes for the A350 XWB. Another agreement calls for Goodrich to provide maintenance support Singapore Airlines’ fleet of 19 leased Airbus A330 aircraft. Goodrich has a service center in Foley, Ala., and Airbus parent, EADS, has two operations in Mobile, Ala. – the CASA service center and Airbus Engineering Center. It also operates American Eurocopter in Columbus, Miss.

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