Saturday, July 11, 2009

Week in review (7/5 to 7/11)

The week ended on a high note for workers at the Lockheed Martin Mississippi Space and Technology Center at Stennis Space Center, Miss. Lockheed Martin Space Systems Co., Sunnyvale, Calif., was awarded a $262.5 million contract for the long lead parts and material procurement for the 4th Space Based Infrared Systems Geosynchronous Earth Orbit Satellite and the 4th Highly Elliptical Orbit Payload. The operation at Stennis builds subsystems for SBIRS as well as other Lockheed satellites.

- To the west at Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans, Jacobs Engineering Group assumed operational management of the facility. Jacobs was awarded the manufacturing support and facility operations contract May 1, and officially took over from Lockheed Martin July 1. It will employ about 450 workers. Michoud has been selected as the site to manufacture several major components for the Constellation Program.

- The Constellation Program continues to move forward, despite the question about its fate pending a review by a special panel. The new crew launch vehicle, Ares I, is moving from the computer-aided design workstations to various fabrication facilities. Experts in friction stir-welding have produced their first tank dome using the same robotic tool that Boeing will use in upper stage production at Michoud. And development of the J-2X, which will power the Ares I upper stage and the earth departure stage, is moving along. Power-pack trials were done at Stennis Space Center. The A2 test stand will be modified for the J-2X after the last space shuttle main engine test in September.

- Sauer Inc. of Jacksonville, Fla., was awarded $7 million under a previously awarded multiple award construction contract for the design and construction to renovate three facilities at Stennis Space Center. It includes work on building 3205 and a new buoy blast & paint facility for the National Data Buoy Center.

Remember when Sen. Daniel Inouye said he hadn’t ruled out the possibility of a buying tankers from both Boeing and Northrop? Well the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee has changed his mind and now opposes that. Inouye told Bloomberg that his view has evolved since last month. Now he said it may be “much more expensive” to buy from two companies. EADS and partner Northrop Grumman will be competing against Boeing for the Air Force contract. EADS plans to establish a tanker assembly plant in Mobile, Ala., if it wins.

- Speaking of Boeing, the company went ahead and agreed to buy for $580 million the Vought Aircraft Industries plant in South Carolina. The Vought facility does fabrication and assembly of structures and systems installation of 787 aft fuselage sections, made primarily of composite materials. Boeing will acquire the assets and inventory and assume operation of the site. This transaction is anticipated to close in the third quarter. Once acquired, the North Charleston facility will be managed by the 787 program. There’s a chance this plant could wind up as a 787 assembly line. But we’ll have to see.

- Boeing’s competitor in the tanker competition, EADS, recently demonstrated nighttime operational capabilities of its refueling boom of its aerial tanker, which is based on an A330. The multi-contact mission was with an F-16 fighter aircraft. The boom’s system features laser infrared lighting and high-definition digital stereoscopic viewing.

- A Bloomberg news columnist during the week came up with an interesting way to resolve two problems faced by the aerospace industry. The suggestion: Airbus should drop its troubled A400 troop transport so European nations can buy proven transports from the United States. And in return, the United States should buy the already flying Airbus A330 aerial tanker. It would help aerospace companies on both continents, who in the future will face challenges from China’s and India’s aerospace industries.

Joint Strike Fighter
The future 33rd Operations Group deputy commander is now at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., preparing for his role at the Joint Strike Fighter Training Center. Navy Capt. Mike Saunders arrived at Eglin a few weeks ago and is working with the F-35 Joint Site Activation Task Force. He’s the first senior staff member of the future F-35 wing. Saunders background includes leading the Navy Fighter Weapons School and Naval Strike and Air Warfare Center. Air Force Col. James Ravella, future group commander, arrives next month.

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