Saturday, March 28, 2009

Week in review (3/22 to 3/28)

One of the missions of this site is to show you the Gulf Coast ties to aerospace activities that, on the surface, don’t seem to have any connection here. That’s why our news briefs sometimes have a “Gulf Coast note.”

One of those stories requiring a note was Lockheed Martin’s announcement that it’s partnering with the University of Florida to develop and launch five miniature satellites. We’re talking small here – a cube-shaped satellite measuring less than four inches a side that weighs just 2.2 pounds.

Lockheed will fund $450,000 worth of UF research and development projects this year. The idea is to look into the viability of miniaturized, space-hardened GPS electronics and state-of-the-art intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities. These satellites, called CubeSats, operate on a power output similar to a cell phone.

Because UF has several engineering-related research programs near Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., I was curious if the engineers in Shalimar will be involved. The director of the University of Florida Research and Engineering Education Facility told me no, that the work would primarily be the Gainesville campus. But he said that some folks from another organization along the Gulf Coast, the Pensacola-based Institute for Human and Machine Cognition, are in fact involved in ASTREC, which was mentioned in the Lockheed Martin announcement.

Lockheed Martin said the CubeSats work will complement the work of the Advanced Space Technologies Research & Engineering Center - ASTREC. Its mission is to provide industry-driven, leading-edge research to produce integrated, small satellites that would improve time in orbit, would cost less and maximize flexibility in design. And come to find out, some of the scientists at IHMC are involved in ASTREC’s work.

- There were a couple of other space-related items during the week that are of interest to the Gulf Coast. Roy Anderson Corp. of Gulfport, Miss., was awarded a $45 million NASA contract to work on portions of the A-3 test stand at Stennis Space Center, Miss. The stand will be used to test the J-2X engines for the Constellation Program. The contract work includes installation of the general mechanical and electrical support for the A-3 test stand.

- The Constellation Program keeps moving ahead. A full-scale mockup of NASA's Orion crew module is being tested in water under simulated and real landing weather conditions. A Navy-built, 18,000-pound Orion mockup is being tested in a pool at the Naval Surface Warfare Center's Carderock Division in West Bethesda, Md. Ocean testing will begin April 6 off the coast of NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. As regular readers know, Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans and Stennis Space Center are both involved in the Constellation Program.

There were two groundbreakings in less than a week at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. Last weekend we talked about the groundbreaking for the Joint Strike Fighter Training Center, which will train pilots to fly the advanced F-35. Then during the week there was a groundbreaking – inside this time – for the Army’s 7th Special Forces Group.

This 600,000-square-foot campus near Duke Field will include a gymnasium, dining facility and two group headquarters on 500 acres. The $300 million project, when finished, will bring 2,000 personnel to the base.

For those who pay attention to the Gulf Coast aerospace corridor, the significance of having the 7th Special Forces Group is not lost. This region is a hot spot for special operations. At Hurlburt Field near Eglin, you have the home of the U.S. Air Force Special Operations Command. Go further west and Stennis Space Center, Miss., is home to the group that trains with riverine craft used to bring Navy SEALS and other special operators to hot spots.

- The Florida Senate during the week moved to protect the Florida’s 20 military bases and $55 billion economic impact. Legislation introduced by Sens. Don Gaetz and Durell Peaden makes base closure and mission realignment a state issue. The bill establishes the Florida Council on Military Base and Mission Support and work groups to focus on intrastate activities, liaison with the Defense Department, competitive strategies, and public awareness. Northwest Florida is home to a half-dozen military bases.

The chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee on defense during the week came up with his own military spending plan since the Pentagon doesn’t yet have one. A key element of Rep. John Murtha’s plan: A new refueling tanker is the top Air Force priority, and he wants to split the buy between Boeing and Northrop Grumman. If Northrop Grumman and partner EADS win some of the tanker competition, planes will be assembled in Mobile, Ala.

One report during the week said Democratic lawmakers are determined to push a bill splitting a $35 billion contract between Boeing and the Northrop Grumman/EADS team. Murtha and other defense appropriators think it will get the program moving again. Defense Secretary Robert Gates sees the move as an expensive compromise, but defense analyst Loren Thompson says the split contract could save money by more quickly retiring the existing fleet of KC-135 tankers.

Murtha’s spending budget mentioned above also put a priority on getting a second engine option for the Joint Strike Fighter, even if the Air Force doesn’t want one. The F-35 Lightning II, built by Lockheed Martin, will be used by the Air Force, Navy and Marines as well as foreign militaries. The plane is a joint project of the United States and foreign partners. During the week, a $320 million contract was awarded to Lockheed Martin for the F-35. It’s a modification to a previous advance acquisition contract that provides for long lead materials associated with the low rate initial production Lot III procurement.

- Senate appropriators during the week offered support for the Air National Guard in its effort to gain new tactical aircraft. Committee Chairman Daniel Inouye told the director of the Air National Guard during the week that appropriators would do their best to make sure replacement fighters are in the budget.

The Guard uses F-16s and F-15s. The Government Accountability Office reported in January that if the planes aren’t replaced by 2020, 11 of 18 domestic air sovereignty alert sites could be without aircraft.

- The Army’s fleet of UH-72A Lakota Light Utility Helicopters passed the 10,000 flight-hour milestone. Fifty-eight UH-72As have been delivered by EADS North America to the Army and Army National Guard for missions including homeland security, medical evacuation, logistics and VIP flights. The helicopters are built in Columbus, Miss. EADS also has an Airbus engineering center and EADS CASA operation in Mobile, Ala.

- Another aircraft had a bit of trouble during the week. The Naval Air Systems Command temporarily grounded 84 Navy and Air Force V-22 Ospreys after an inspection of a V-22s in Iraq revealed loose bolts damaging components in the rotor assembly. The aircraft inspected included 11 CV-22s based at Hurlburt Field, Fla.

There were several contracts awarded this week with a Gulf Coast connection. In addition to the Lockheed Martin contract for advance procurement and the A-3 test stand contracts mentioned earlier, there were three others to note:

EDO Corp., Panama City, Fla., was awarded a $49.5 million contract to provide services and materials for repair, modification, and overhaul of the Organic Airborne Mine Countermeasures System. The work will be done in Panama City, and the contracting activity was the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Panama City.

Bates Engineers/Contractors Inc., Bainbridge, Ga., was awarded a $20 million contract to design and build a Joint Communications Support Element Squadron Facility at MacDill Air Force Base, Fla. The Corps of Engineers, Mobile District, Mobile, Ala., was the contracting activity.

Tybrin Corp., of Fort Walton Beach, Fla., was awarded a contract for $16.8 million to provide advisory and assistance services to support Aerospace Research, Development, Test and Evaluation Advisory and Assistance Services program.

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