Saturday, March 6, 2010

Week in review (2/28 to 3/6)

John C. Stennis Space Center in South Mississippi has a new head honcho.

Patrick Scheuermann is the new director of Stennis Space Center, moving up from deputy director to replace Arthur "Gene" Goldman, who goes to Huntsville, Ala., as the new deputy director of Marshall Space Flight Center.

Before being named deputy director of Stennis, Scheuermann was associate director at the center and previously served as chief operating officer of NASA's Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans.

- Speaking of Michoud, Lockheed Martin expects to finish the last of 134 space shuttle external tanks by the end of June before shutting down the production line for the aluminum-lithium structures. What the future holds is still uncertain.

The government-owned fabrication facility in east New Orleans was scheduled to assemble the upper stage of the Ares I crew launch vehicle as well as assembly of the Orion crew vehicle. But the Obama administration has proposed canceling the Constellation Program of post-shuttle space vehicles.

That move by the administration has caused Louisiana put a hold on the remaining $46 million in previously approved money to help Michoud transition from the shuttle to Constellation. Louisiana previously allocated $102 million to help in the transition.

Despite the uncertainty over Constellation, the Lockheed Martin-led team developing the Orion crew exploration vehicle completed fabrication of the heat shield that protects the spacecraft and crew from the extreme temperatures of re-entry. The work was completed at Lockheed's composite development facility in Denver, Colo. The heat shield is to be affixed to the Orion ground test article being built at Michoud.

Joint Strike Fighter
The city of Valparaiso, Fla., and the Air Force finally settled the legal battle over the F-35. City residents have been concerned over the noise expected when Eglin opens the F-35 joint training center. The suit was filed over use of a runway close to the city of Valparaiso. The agreement has the Air Force using it only when necessary. The Air Force also agreed to set up a committee to address any future noise issues.

- The Pratt and Whitney F135 conventional takeoff and landing/carrier variant engine for the F-35 has received approval for operational use. Called initial service release, it indicates the engine meets all requirements for safety, reliability and performance. It’s now approved for low-rate initial production. The F-35 will be used by the Air Force, Navy and Marines, as well as the military from eight foreign partners.

Aerial tanker
As expected, Boeing said during the week that it will offer a 767-based aerial refueling tanker for the Air Force's multibillion-dollar tanker competition. The 767 will have an updated digital flight deck and a fly-by-wire refueling boom. Boeing said the tanker would meet all the Air Force's 372 requirements and offered a low-risk manufacturing option.

There's no word yet on whether the Northrop Grumman/EADS team, which said the current rules favor the smaller Boeing plane, will bid. Northrop Grumman did say during the week that it's getting closer to a decision.

Just how much that will be influenced by EADS is unclear. But a source in Europe told Reuters during the week that EADS wants to bid, despite the odds. The Northrop Grumman/EADS team won the contract in February 2008, but it was overturned following a Boeing protest. The Northrop/EADS team wants to assemble the planes in Mobile, Ala.

- Also during the week, the Senate approved three Defense Department nominees whose confirmation had been blocked for weeks by Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., amid concerns about an Air Force tanker project.

The commanding officer of Naval Air Station Pensacola, Fla., was permanent relieved of command during the week following an inquiry into alleged "inappropriate conduct." Capt. William P. Reavey was relieved by Rear Adm. Tim Alexander, commander of Navy Region Southeast, due to loss of confidence in Reavey's judgment and ability to command.

- Louis Armstrong International Airport in New Orleans ranks next-to-last among 24 small American airports in customer satisfaction. That's according to a biennial survey released by J.D. Power and Associates. At least 100 passengers provided ratings for 27 attributes in six major categories: airport accessibility, baggage claim, check-in process, terminal facilities, security check and food and retail services.

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