Saturday, August 15, 2009

Week in review (8/9 to 8/15)

If you follow the space program, then you know that the upcoming report from the Augustine Committee could have a major impact on NASA’s Constellation Program. And that’s significant for the Gulf Coast region. Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans and Stennis Space Center in Mississippi, are both key facilities for Constellation.

The Washington Post reported Friday that the committee’s findings “could turn the entire space program upside down.” The panel, created to take another look at NASA and its programs, has been meeting for months. One big finding: NASA doesn't have nearly enough money to meet its goal of putting astronauts back on the moon by 2020 - and it may be the wrong place to go anyway.

The Human Space Flight Plans Committee is just an advisory panel, but its findings are expected to have a big impact on the Obama administration. The group’s report is expected by the end of this month. (Story)

Michoud is one of the locations where portions of the space vehicles are being built, and Stennis is where the propulsion systems are being tested. A lot of money has already been spent on the Constellation Program, including construction of a new test stand at Stennis.

The possibility of a second Boeing assembly site for the 787 outside the state of Washington has spread concern in that state's aerospace industry. Boeing is looking at sites in Washington and South Carolina to house a new final assembly plant for its 787 because the aircraft is two years behind schedule. Industry observers say the company is also looking at sites in Texas and elsewhere in the South.

For the Gulf Coast region, Boeing’s moves are of particular interest. Boeing is locked in battle with the Northrop Grumman/EADS team to build tankers for the Air Force. EADS and Northrop want to build them in Mobile, Ala., and Boeing plans to build them in Washington State. Of course, any interest Boeing has in setting up assembly lines in the South are of high interest to economic development officials in this region.

Unmanned systems
The Fire Scout unmanned helicopter recently completed flight tests aboard the USS McInerney, part of a series of evaluations leading to operational evaluation this fall. The tests took place last month off the coast of Mayport, Fla. The Fire Scout is slated to deploy aboard McInerney during its next counter-narcotics trafficking deployment later this year. Fire Scouts are built in part in Moss Point, Miss., at the Northrop Grumman Unmanned Systems Center.

- Speaking of the Fire Scout, that unmanned helicopter is featured in the latest version of the U.S. Army's America's Army 3 computer game. America's Army 3 includes Fire Scout as part of an introduction to the game's Unmanned Aircraft Systems integration. America's Army is one of the most popular computer game franchises.

- Navy enlisted men and women may get an opportunity to become Fire Scout pilots. The Navy is launching an experimental program using two enlisted men. All those trained to fly the Fire Scout unmanned helicopter have so far been rated helicopter pilots. The Navy is trying to determine if this is a cost-effective option.

Training a winged pilot costs $500,000 to $1 million. Training a sailor to pilot a UAV would be a fraction of the cost.

The Naval Education and Training Command, headquartered in Pensacola, Fla., has a new commander. Rear Adm. Joseph F. Kilkenny took over from retiring Rear Adm. Gary R. Jones during a change of command ceremony at Naval Air Station Pensacola on Thursday. The training command is the largest in the Navy.

- The Air Force got a new surgeon general during the past week. It’s Lt. Gen. (Dr.) Charles B. Green, the 20th Air Force surgeon general. Green completed residency training in family practice in 1981 at Eglin Regional Hospital at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla.

US Airways plans to begin nonstop service to Reagan National Airport in Washington, D.C. early next year from Pensacola Gulf Coast Regional Airport in Florida. The proposed new service is the result of a US Airways deal with Delta to swap slots at New York's LaGuardia Airport and Reagan National.

- In Mobile, Ala., a new charter air service is now available. Springdale Travel and Charter Services launched their “Mobile Direct” with a demonstration flight during the week from Mobile Regional Airport to Birmingham. An eight-seat Cessna Citation jet will serve airports within 1,500 miles of Mobile.

There were at least two contracts awarded during the past week with a Gulf Coast connection. Jacobs Technology Inc., Tullahoma, Tenn., was awarded a $98.1 million contract to provide technical, engineering and acquisition support program at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., and various other tenant organizations. AAC/PKES, Eglin is the contracting activity. … Utilis USA LLC of Fort Walton Beach, Fla., was awarded $6.2 million under a previously awarded contract for general purpose medium shelters. Work will be performed in Fort Walton Beach and Destin, Fla., and Celina, Ohio.

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