Saturday, January 2, 2010

Week in review (12/27 to 1/2)

The uncertainty over where NASA is heading remains as the new year begins. And that’s got to be uncomfortable for those who work at the Gulf Coast’s NASA facilities at Stennis Space Center, Miss., and Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans.

But the uncertainty shouldn’t last much longer. The Obama administration is expected to reveal within the next few weeks where NASA will be heading. The president, who has expressed admiration for the space program, has been getting input from a lot of advisors. He also has the results of the Review of U.S. Human Space Flight Committee.

In October that panel said NASA's current funding puts it on an “unsustainable trajectory” to undertake ambitious missions of returning to the moon and beyond – the Constellation Program. It urged Obama to increase the agency’s budget by $3 billion a year, above the nearly $19 billion per year it receives now. The report also raised issues about the current lineup of space vehicles being developed by NASA and industry partners. (Story)

Both Michoud, which is involved in assembling the new generation of space vehicles, and Stennis, which is where the propulsion systems will be tested, are moving forward on Constellation despite the uncertainty. But then again, until told otherwise, what can they do?

But the space program isn't the only uncertainty. In 2010 we'll learn whether Boeing or the Northrop Grumman/EADS team will win the contract to produce aerial tankers for the Air Force. If Boeing wins, the planes will be built in Washington state, and if Northrop/EADS wins, they'll be assembled in Mobile, Ala.

I'm going to go out on a limb and again predict that the Pentagon will end up splitting the contract. The whole process has become so political it may be the only escape. And if that happens, we'll still have to see if the production rate is large enough for EADS to go ahead and commit to a facility in Mobile.

Stay tuned, folks.

Joint Strike Fighter
The 2010 mayor’s race in Valparaiso, Fla., may shape up as a referendum on the city’s face-off with the Air Force over the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. The March 9 ballot so far pits current Mayor Bruce Arnold against challenger Brent Smith. Arnold was a driving force behind the city’s lawsuit against the Air Force, while Smith opposed the litigation from the start.

The Air Force is building the F-35 joint training center at Eglin, but some residents have been concerned over the noise the new plane will bring. Despite the ongoing concerns, more than $84 million for F-35 structures and a 96-room dormitory at Eglin is included in the $13.5 billion fiscal 2010 military construction budget.

- In another F-35 story during the past week, Lockheed Martin said the second F-35B short takeoff/vertical landing arrived early in the week at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md. The aircraft flew nonstop from Fort Worth, Texas, and completed an aerial refueling en route. Over the next year a team will ramp up the plane for flight testing.

- Also during the week, Kyodo News reported that Japan may become a partner in the F-35 development program – even without a firm commitment to buying the aircraft.

Gulfport-Biloxi International Airport in Mississippi may see an 8 to 10 percent passenger growth in 2010. That’s according to Bruce Frallic, the long-time airport’s director. He says the last two years have been tough on the industry, but he sees things turning around. The airport has spent millions in improvements, and will be spending millions more in 2010. The airport will be getting back AirTran Jan. 8 after a year’s absence.

- In Pensacola, Fla., Melinda Crawford was appointed during the week as the new director of Pensacola Gulf Coast Regional Airport. Crawford has been the interim director since May 15, when former director Frank Miller left the position for a job in San Antonio, Texas.

- Speaking of airports, the attempted attack of an airliner by a man wearing explosives under his clothing may mean more business for Rapiscan Systems of Torrance, Calif., and its 10,000 square-foot production facility in Ocean Springs, Miss. The plant, which builds scanners, recently hired 25 additional workers.

New market
Teledyne Continental Motors of Mobile, Ala., is making a push into diesel-powered engines to enter new markets worldwide – including small unmanned aerial vehicles. Teledyne Continental is hiring engineers and has bought diesel-related technology, licenses and hardware from an outside source. Teledyne plans to announce details this month. Teledyne Continental is a unit of Teledyne Technologies of Thousand Oaks, Calif., and has about 450 workers in Mobile.

Vertex Aerospace, LLC, Madison, Miss., was awarded an $11.4 million modification to a previously awarded contract to provide specialized technical services in support of depot level maintenance work performed at the Fleet Readiness Center, Southwest on aircraft and rework of associated components and materials. … General Dynamics Armament and Technical Products, Burlington, Vt., was awarded a $33.6 million contract for 144 Bradley reactive armor tile sets for the Bradley Fighting Vehicle systems. Most of the work will be done in Haifa, Israel; Burlington and Lyndonville, Vt., but McHenry, Miss., will do 1.7 percent of the work. … Raytheon Co., Tucson, Ariz., was awarded a $12.4 million contract, with a task order from an existing requirements contract, to purchase 43 range safety systems necessary for decoy operational testings and miniature air launched decoy and jammer initial operational test and evaluation. 692 ARSS/PK Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., is the contracting activity. … Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co., Fort Worth, Texas, is being awarded a $98 million modification to the previously awarded cost-plus-incentive-fee contract for special tooling and special test equipment required for the manufacture of Joint Strike Fighter Air System low rate initial production aircraft. Work will be performed in Fort Worth, Texas. Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., will become home to the JSF training center.

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