Saturday, January 30, 2010

Week in review (1/24 to 1/30)

What do you do with a product that just two months ago was named the best invention of 2009? Well, what else? If you're the federal government, you scrap it. That appears to be in the future for the Ares I rocket.

People from Stennis Space Center, Miss., and Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans - and a host of other locations with NASA facilities - will be paying close attention Monday when President Barack Obama releases his budget request for fiscal year 2011. Published reports say it will include no money to fund the Constellation Program, NASA's Bush-era project to return astronauts to the moon and beyond.

And it won't just be the NASA workers that will be paying attention. Any company involved in building the Ares I, Ares V, Orion crew capsule, Altair Lunar Lander or lunar bases will be taking note of the budget request. And who can blame them? We're talking billions of dollars worth of work and thousands of jobs, some with NASA, some with contractors.

Reports indicate the administration wants NASA to forget about going back to the moon and instead focus on earth science projects like research on global warming. The budget reportedly calls for extending the life of the International Space Station and having commercial companies develop vehicles to ferry astronauts to the ISS. It means an entirely new set of winners and losers.

But the budget proposal is simply the opening round of a process that will take months. There will be a lot of hearings, and Congress will get a chance to pounce on the budget – and pounce they will. NASA and the Constellation Program have strong bipartisan support, and what eventually leaves the Hill may look nothing like the document handed to them.

You can bet your tax refund that political forces from California, Texas, Alabama, Florida, Utah and other states with voters who have a stake in the Constellation Program are mustering the troops. Many have already expressed outrage. You'll hear them say the proposed direction shift will end U.S. leadership in space. And for anyone who remembers the space race and the pride of overtaking the Soviet Union, that will resonate.

But pride aside, it will boil down to jobs. For an administration that’s placed a priority on job creation, this is a peculiar step. The most immediate impact will be the loss of jobs for those involved in Constellation, including companies like ATK, Boeing and Lockheed Martin.

What's frustrating is just how much money is wasted as directions change from one administration to another. It's happened countless times before, and I suppose we should be used to it by now. In this case, some $9 billion has been spent on Constellation over the past six years, and a lot of intellectual capital has been put into the program.

We can see some of that work right here in the Gulf Coast. Stennis Space Center has been working on the A-3 test stand that will be used to test the Constellation Project’s J-2X engines, and construction is well underway at Michoud Assembly Facility to prepare it for work on the Ares I upper stage and avionics. The most public display of the Constellation Program was in October with the successful test launch in October of the Ares I-X from Kennedy Space Center.

A month after that launch, the Ares I rocket got top honors in TIME magazine's "Best Inventions of 2009" special edition. The magazine calls the rocket the "best and coolest and smartest thing built in 2009." The magazine’s Paul Kluger noted that Ares I's first flight "dazzled even the skeptics."

So stay tuned. The battle has just begun.

Now for the week in review:

Joint Strike Fighter
A pilot from the Royal Air Force during the week became the third active-duty service pilot - and the first from the United Kingdom - to pilot the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. Squadron Leader Steve Long piloted BF-2, a short takeoff/vertical landing F-35B, over Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md.

Long flew the aircraft to 20,000 feet before landing 1.3 hours later. He said he was particularly pleased with the sensors and the level of situational awareness. Both the RAF and the Royal Navy plan to operate the F-35B. The other active-duty pilots to previously fly the F-35 were from the U.S. Air Force and Marine Corps.

Meanwhile, the Pentagon's 2011 budget will seek nearly $11 billion for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter according to a draft overview obtained by Defense News. The budget is due to be sent to Congress Monday. That's of interest to the Gulf Coast region, since Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., will be home of the Joint Strike Fighter training center.

A 10-month gap between World Trade Organization rulings on cases involving government subsidies to Boeing and Airbus could hinder the ability of the EU and U.S. to arrive at a settlement. During the week, an EU spokeswoman said the two cases are so similar that the WTO appeals body should rule on both at the same time.

The WTO in September said Airbus was receiving subsidies, but won’t rule on the alleged subsidies to Boeing until June. Airbus parent EADS is teamed with Northrop Grumman and competing against Boeing to build tankers for the Air Force. EADS plans to assemble the planes in Mobile, Ala.

The commander of Air Force Space Command certified 24th Air Force for its initial operational capability Jan. 22. The 24th Air Force, activated in August 2009 at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, is a component numbered Air Force subordinate to Air Force Space Command located at Peterson.

"Cyberspace operations represent one of the critical and major areas of growth within the Air Force today," said Maj. Gen. Richard Webber, the 24th Air Force commander. Air Force cyber training is done at Keesler Air Force Base, Miss.

- Medics from the 1st Special Operations Support Squadron at Hurlburt Field, Fla., have performed dozens of surgeries, evacuated scores of citizens and delivered tons of supplies as part of the ongoing relief effort in Haiti after the Jan. 12 earthquake. The squadron's special operations surgical teams, special operations critical care evacuation teams, and special operations forces medical elements arrived in Haiti Jan. 13.

- The body of Lt. Clinton Wermers, a Navy pilot whose training plane crashed last weekend in Lake Pontchartrain, was recovered by divers.

Wermers, an instructor, and a student aviator were in a T-34C Turbo Mentor assigned to Naval Air Station Whiting Field in Milton, Fla., when they crashed around 7 p.m. Jan. 23 on approach to the New Orleans Lakefront Airport. The student was rescued Saturday.

A native of South Dakota, Wermer’s remains were recovered Wednesday. The plane was assigned to Training Squadron 6 and was on a routine training mission when it crashed.

4Q reports
Goodrich Corp. earned a $105 million profit in the fourth quarter, down 38 percent from $168.7 million in the last three months of 2008. The company has a service center in Foley, Ala. … Lockheed Martin Corp. reported fourth quarter 2009 net earnings of $827 million compared to $823 million in 2008. Lockheed Martin has multiple operations in the Gulf Coast region. … Raytheon Co. reported fourth quarter 2009 income from continuing operations of $517 million, up 21 percent compared to $428 million in the fourth quarter 2008. Raytheon has operations in the Gulf Coast region. … Teledyne Technologies reported fourth quarter 2009 sales of $454.4 million, compared with sales of $464.8 million for the same period of 2008. Teledyne Continental Motors of Mobile, Ala., is a subsidiary of California-based Teledyne Technologies. … United Technologies Corp. reported fourth quarter 2009 net income of $1.1 billion, down 6 percent over the year ago quarter. United Technologies has activities in the Gulf Coast region, in part through subsidiary Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne. … General Dynamics reported 2009 fourth-quarter earnings from continuing operations of $618 million compared to 2008 fourth-quarter earnings from continuing operations of $630 million. General Dynamics has activities in the Gulf Coast region. … The Boeing Co. reported fourth-quarter net income of $1.3 billion as revenue rose 42 percent to $17.9 billion. Boeing has activities in the Gulf Coast region.

Kachemak Research Development, Logan, Utah, was awarded a $9.8 million contract which will provide for robotics research in support of AutoScan 31G for robotic perimeter security applications. 325 CONS/LGCB, Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla., is the contracting activity. … Raytheon Missile Systems Co., Tucson, Ariz., was awarded a $23.7 million contract which will replace obsolete parts within the guidance section data processor module and modify the supporting missile hardware and software architecture as required to continue production of the existing missile systems. 695 ARSS, Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., is the contracting activity. … Dyncorp International, Fort Worth, Texas, was awarded a $6.7 million contract for continued contractor logistics support for 12 U.S. Navy UC-35C/D aircraft. Seventeen percent of the work will be done at Naval Air Station New Orleans, La. … CSC Applied Technologies of Fort Worth, Texas was awarded a $29.5 million contract which will provide for base operating support service at Keesler Air Force Base, Miss. 81 CONS, Keesler Air Force Base, is the contracting activity.

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