Saturday, June 26, 2010

Week in review (6/20 to 6/26)

The Northrop Grumman Global Hawk has been under fire of late. The Air Force's acting acquisition chief, in a roundtable with reporters, had said the Air Force isn't happy about the pace of the program.

But according to Politico, the California congressional delegation is defending Global Hawk. The lawmakers sent a letter to Defense Secretary Robert Gates, touting the merits of the combat-tested surveillance vehicle. (Story)

Fuselage work on the newer versions of the Global Hawk is done in part in Moss Point, Miss.

On another UAV topic, new drones are being developed that are much smaller, and can look from the ground like a bird. AOL News had a report about a recent Special Operations Forces Conference in Tampa, Fla., where a lot of these microdrones were on display. One of them, the Wasp, by California-based AeroVironment, is the smallest drone around and is already being used by the Hurlburt Field, Fla.-based Air Force Special Operations Command.

Also on display was TiGER, which can carry two hand grenades, and the Spy Pigeon by the Air Force Research Laboratory, able to fly for a week. It can recharge by landing on a utility wire. Another microdrone is the Maveric, which folds into a small tube. The Navy is buying Maveric for SEALS to launch from mini-submarines. (Story)

The president submitted to Congress a fiscal year 2011 budget amendment that targets up to $100 million toward spurring regional economic growth and job creation in the aerospace industry. The amendment would provide up to $40 million in aid for Florida's Space Coast and a maximum of about $60 million for other affected regions.

The funds would be made available from the Constellation Program transition element of the agency's exploration request. Stennis Space Center, Miss., and Michoud Assembly Facility, New Orleans, are both involved in Constellation.

- NASA is considering new target launch dates for its last two shuttle missions to give engineers more time to prepare equipment for the International Space Station. Launch of Discovery would be Oct. 29. Endeavour would aim for liftoff on Feb. 28, 2011. Senior managers are expected to approve the new dates at a meeting on July 1. Stennis Space Center, Miss., and Michoud Assembly Facility, New Orleans, are both involved in the shuttle program.

Joint Strike Fighter
The first pilots and maintainers for the F-35 will start a training regimen this fall to learn the ins and outs of the Joint Strike Fighter on laptops and full-motion simulators. Instructors will do a dry run of the course at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., in July. Right now, the wing has about 200 instructors from the Air Force, Navy and Marines, but should hit full strength of 2,000 by 2014. By then, the wing will have at least 59 F-35s for training. The first is scheduled to arrive in November.

- A Lockheed Martin F-35C carrier variant successfully completed testing in which it was dropped from heights of more than 11 feet during a series of simulated aircraft-carrier landings. The tests helped confirm the F-35C's structural integrity for carrier operations. The jet underwent drop testing at Vought Aircraft Industries in Grand Prairie, Texas.

SURVICE Engineering Co., Belcamp, Md., was awarded a $67.8 million contract to provide support to the Air Force Seek Eagle Office for the purpose of augmenting its workforce with contracted skills and expertise to provide modeling and simulation, and analysis and product development support. AAC/PKES, Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., is the contracting activity. … Jacobs Technology Inc., Tullahoma, Tenn., was awarded a $16.3 million contract modification to provide technical, engineering and acquisition support at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla, and various other tenant originations. AAC/PKES, Eglin Air Force Base is the contracting activity.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Week in review (6/13 to 6/19)

It will be mid-November before the Pentagon awards a contract for Air Force refueling tankers. That word came at the close of the week from Lt. Gen. Mark Shackelford, the Air Force's top uniformed acquisition official, during a briefing with reporters.

The Pentagon, after it granted a 60-day extension to EADS to prepare a bid, had said the award date would not change from "early fall." EADS said it needed the extra time after partner Northrop Grumman dropped out of the competition.

The original deadline for EADS and rival Boeing to submit their bids was May 10, but it's now July 9. EADS is offering a tanker version of its Airbus A330 and Boeing is offering a modified 767.

EADS wants to assemble the tankers in Mobile, Ala., at a site at Brookley Industrial Complex.

Lawrence D. Thomas was appointed manager of NASA's Constellation Program, which manages the effort to take humans beyond low-Earth orbit and develop the next generation launch vehicle and spacecraft. He'll be based at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston.

Thomas most recently served as the deputy program manager of the Constellation Program at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Ala. Last month, lawmakers who support Constellation were upset the agency reassigned the former head of the program, Jeff Hanley, to a deputy position at Johnson Space Center.

Hanley had opposed administration efforts to shut down the program. Stennis Space Center, Miss., and Michoud Assembly Facility, New Orleans, are both involved in the Constellation Program.

- The Orion crew exploration vehicle took shape as the two halves of the crew module were fused together at NASA's Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans. The Lockheed Martin Orion team welded the forward cone assembly to the aft barrel assembly using the next generation friction stir weld process.

Prior to flight testing, this crew module will be tested on the ground in flight-like environments, including static vibration, acoustic, and water landing tests.

- The STS-132 Atlantis space shuttle crew visited NASA's John C. Stennis Space Center Thursday to thank personnel for their role in the May mission to the International Space Station. Crew members presented a video recap of their mission, scheduled as the last flight for the Atlantis shuttle.

The 12-day mission of Atlantis carried the Russian Rassvet Mini-Research Module-1 to the ISS. Atlantis also was the first shuttle to dock to the Russian Space Station Mir. It traveled to the ISS 11 times. Atlantis now is being prepared to serve as a backup craft should an emergency arise during the final two scheduled shuttle missions.

Joint Strike Fighter
The Defense Department is threatening to withhold payments to Lockheed Martin starting as early as next month if it doesn't submit a suitable plan for fixing problems for tracking contract costs and schedules. The plan is due June 30 and a decision will come several weeks later on whether Lockheed has demonstrated it can fix the problems within six to nine months, according to Shay Assad, the Pentagon procurement director. It could impact payments on the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., will be the JSF training center.

- The short-takeoff and vertical-landing version of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter broke the sound barrier June 10. It's the first U.S. operational STOVL aircraft to exceed that milestone. A Marine pilot flew BF-2 to a speed of Mach 1.07 during a test at 30,000 feet over an off-shore range near Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md. Two Air Force F-35A conventional takeoff-and-landing test aircraft also have broken the sound barrier.

Because of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, Air Force water survival courses have temporarily relocated from Naval Air Station Pensacola, Fla., to Fairchild Air Force Base, Wash. Training at NAS Pensacola was suspended June 4 when oil was discovered inside the training area used by Detachment 2 of the 66th Training Squadron.

Up to 55 students a week attend the three-day course. It's unclear how long training operations there will be suspended. The Deepwater Horizon exploded April 20, killing 11 workers. Oil from the well has spewed into the Gulf of Mexico since then.

- At Keesler Air Force Base, Miss., Cmdr. Cris Treharne turns over command of the Center for Naval Aviation Technical Training Unit to Cmdr. Angie Walker June 25 at Welch Auditorium. Walker is reporting from Stennis Space Center, Miss., where she served as the deputy assistant chief of staff for operations for the Commander, Naval Meteorology and Oceanography Command.

- The U.S. Transportation Security Administration unveiled a full-body X-ray scanner Friday at Mississippi's Gulfport-Biloxi International Airport’s security checkpoint. It's built by Rapiscan Systems plant in Ocean Springs, Miss. The scanner can detect metallic and non-metallic items including weapons and explosives, concealed beneath a passenger’s clothes. Rapiscan is part of OSI Systems of Hawthorne, Calif.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Week in review (6/6 to 6/12)

The fight between NASA leadership and Congress over the direction of the space agency is getting heated. NASA told major Constellation Program contractors last week that they must immediately cut back work by nearly $1 billion to comply with federal spending rules.

The move was seen by Constellation supports as a back door way of killing the program, despite a Congressional mandate that work continue on the program unless Congress specifically orders it killed. But NASA says it's simply abiding by the Anti-Deficiency Act, which requires contractors to set aside a portion of their payments to cover costs if a project is canceled. (Story)

The rift is of high interest to workers at Stennis Space Center, Miss., and Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans. The two NASA facilities, about 40 miles apart, are both involved in the Constellation Program. Stennis' A-3 test stand is designed to test J-2X engines for the Constellation Program, and a Lockheed Martin team at Michoud earlier this month finished the structural framework for the Orion crew capsule ground test article.

- The six crew members of the last scheduled space shuttle mission visited Stennis Space Center during the week. The shuttle Endeavour's STS-134 mission, scheduled for November, will deliver the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer to the International Space Station. Shuttle crew traditionally visit NASA centers instrumental to the missions. Stennis has tested all of the main engines used on space shuttle missions.

- NASA is inviting members of the public to send an electronic image of their faces into orbit aboard one of the final remaining space shuttle missions. Visitors to the "Face in Space" Web site can upload their portrait to fly aboard shuttle Discovery's STS-133 mission or shuttle Endeavour's STS-134 mission. You can also just have your name sent up.

- NASA picked 18 projects for Phase II funding under the Small Business Technology Transfer program. Eighteen businesses are partnered with 15 universities in projects valued at $11 million. In a project of interest to Stennis Space Center, Miss., Combustion Research and Flow Technology of Pipersville, Pa., is teamed with the University of Florida to develop simulation software to predict potential damage to a propulsion system and test stands that can be caused by vibrations of liquid rockets.

Mississippi State University is involved in two of the 18 winning projects. In one, it's working with Keystone Synergistic Enterprises of Port Saint Lucie, Fla., on a process to solid-state weld high strength and temperature alloys used to make engine nozzel skirts. In another, MSU is working with Streamline Numerics of Gainesville, Fla., on an advanced simulation framework for design and analysis of space propulsion systems.

EADS North America will transfer to Mobile, Ala., later this month 100 workers as it prepares to bid on the $35 million Air Force tanker project. According to the Mobile Press-Register, the company leased office space at Bel Air Mall to house employees now located in Arlington, Va., and Melbourne, Fla.

EADS and rival Boeing plan to bid on the contract. EADS, which already has operations in Mobile, wants to assemble the KC-45 at Brookley Industrial Complex. Boeing wants to build them in Washington state. EADS' former partner, Northrop Grumman, dropped out of the contest earlier this year, claiming the request for proposals favors the smaller Boeing offering.

Joint Strike Fighter
The Navy version of the F-35 made its inaugural flight last weekend. The carrier variant took off from Naval Air Station Fort Worth Joint Reserve Base, Texas, and logged a 57-minute flight. Lockheed Martin is developing the F-35 with principal industrial partners Northrop Grumman and BAE Systems. Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., will be the initial JSF training center.

Global Hawk
NASA's unmanned Global Hawk aircraft completed four science flights over the Pacific Ocean in April in a joint project between NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and plans are on track to use the UAV later this year to track hurricanes in the Atlantic. Global Hawks are built in part in Moss Point, Miss.

McDonnell Douglas Corp., St. Louis, Mo., was awarded a $98 million contract for the production of the Small Diameter Bomb I weapon system for various Foreign Military Sales customers. 680 ARSSG/PK, Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., is the contracting activity. … R.C. Construction Co. Inc., Greenwood, Miss., was awarded a $37.5 million contract to construct a new taxiway extension, a new aircraft parking apron, and a new load area, including a load crew shelter, flare facility, and a munitions holding area at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Mobile District, Mobile, Ala., is the contracting activity. … L3 Communications Aerospace LLC, Madison, Miss., was awarded a $9.2 million contract for logistical support in the areas of aircraft workers, aircraft painters, and other areas at Corpus Christi, Texas. … Sunrise Beach Corp., Allen, Texas, was awarded a $59.5 million contract for aircraft paint and maintenance services for the 1108th Aviation Classification Repair Activity Depot for the Mississippi Army National Guard at Gulfport, Miss., and other locations. National Guard Bureau, U.S. Property and Fiscal Office for Mississippi, Jackson, Miss., is the contracting activity. … Raytheon Co., Tucson, Ariz., was awarded a $17.6 million contract to provide for the electronic protection improvement program. 696 ARSS/PK, Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., is the contracting activity.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Week in review (5/30 to 6/5)

Although much of the attention here has been on the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, at least one item likely caught the attention of workers at NASA's Stennis Space Center, Miss., and Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans.

On Friday the first of a new generation of private rockets took off from Cape Canaveral, Fla. Falcon 9, a 180-foot rocket, put a model of its Dragon capsule into orbit about 160 miles up. The launch is important to the Obama administration, which has proposed killing the Constellation Program - the program to return astronauts to the Moon and beyond - in favor of moving toward a far greater role for commercial space companies.

SpaceX plans to send a fully operational rocket and capsule into orbit later this summer and one to the space station next year. Both Stennis Space Center and Michoud are involved in the Constellation Program.

Despite fears that the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is louder than the planes it's replacing, that's not stopping bases from making a pitch to get the aircraft. Eleven bases in seven states are hoping to convince the Pentagon to choose them to house the plane. The first round of selections is slated for 2011. Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., is already scheduled to become a joint training center.

Meanwhile, the first F-35 mission rehearsal trainer is now at Eglin's 33rd Fighter Wing. It replicates the cockpit of an F-35 and is a containerized, deployable version of the full mission simulator slated to arrive late this year.

The trainer is one of many new technologies the three U.S. military services and eight partner nations purchasing the F-35 will be using. From their arrival at the 33rd Academic Training Center, students will interact with the latest technology. When the wing reaches full strength in 2014, it will train Air Force, Marine, Navy and international partner operators and maintainers of the F-35.

Advanced Media Design Systems of Pensacola, Fla., was recently awarded the audio visual component of the Joint Strike Fighter Air Force/Navy/Marine Squad Ops at Eglin. AMDS will be renovating a hanger including over 45 rooms with new AV control systems and equipment.

Three units representing each component of the Air Force recently completed the first homeland defense operational readiness inspection. It was held in Mississippi at the Gulfport Combat Readiness Training Center, and marked the first time the Air Force validated a unit's wartime capability to defend the homeland by fighting an enemy on U.S. soil. The ORI was May 16 through 23.

Thirty-two physicians and dentists are getting ready to graduate from 81st Medical Group internship and residency training at Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi, Miss. It marks Keesler Air Force Base's first internal medicine residency graduating class since Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The graduation is June 10 in Keesler Hospital's Don Wylie Auditorium.

Thirty-five units at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., will be getting name changes. Air Force Materiel Command officials notified commanders last month that headquarters approved converting the command structure from wings, groups and squadrons to directorates, divisions and branches. At Eglin, the 308th Armament Systems Wing will be impacted the most with all of its units undergoing a name change.