Saturday, September 25, 2010

Week in review (9/19 to 9/25)

The dust may finally be settling on the issue of where NASA's space program is heading. The months of uncertainty no doubt has caused concern at two Gulf Coast facilities involved in the space program - NASA's John C. Stennis Space Center, Miss., and Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans.

During the past week, the House Science and Technology committee just about surrendered to a Senate plan for NASA that cancels the Constellation Program and gives commercial rocket companies a greater role in space exploration.

The Senate version, supported by the White House, directs NASA to build a new spacecraft that one day could reach an asteroid while investing about $1.6 billion over three years in commercial rocket companies. I say "just about" because the House bill is slightly different. For one thing, it budgets $400 million less for commercial companies, according to reports in the press.

So while the House and Senate are close, no cigar yet. (Detailed story)

- In another Gulf Coast space-related item during the week, the external fuel tank that will power the last planned space shuttle left Michoud Assembly Facility and is expected to arrive Sunday at NASA's Kennedy Space Center, Fla.

The tank has been restored to flight configuration at Michoud after sustaining damage during Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The tank, ET-122, will support shuttle Endeavour's flight targeted for launch in February.

- Also during the week, Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne said it successfully completed the latest round of tests on the gas generator for NASA's J-2X rocket engine. With the first NASA J-2X engine far along in development, Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne said it's on track to begin testing in 2011 at Stennis Space Center, Miss. Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne has an operation at the South Mississippi facility that's best known for rocket engine testing.

- In another Stennis Space Center item, NPD Resources Inc. of Brookhaven, Miss., was awarded a $12.46 million contract to expand Highway 607 at Stennis Space Center, Miss., from two lanes to fours. The project is expected to take 18 months. The roadway addition is part of a larger project to expand state Route 607 to four lanes all the way to I-59. The expanded road will provide service to Stennis Space Center and serve as a hurricane evacuation route.

Speaking of the dust settling, a bit more clarity came to another issue during the week, this one involving the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., home of the Joint Strike Fighter training center.

The Air Force narrowed the primary airfields for the F-35 to Eglin Main and Duke Field. In a draft of the Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement released during the week, the Air Force said the JSF will bed down, be maintained, launched and recovered at one of the two fields. A final decision will be made after public hearings and release of the final EIS.

- Meanwhile, the Pentagon during the week said it reached a fixed-price agreement with Lockheed Martin for a fourth batch of F-35s. The deal includes 30 jets for the United States and one for Britain, and an option for one for the Netherlands.

Information on the price per plane was not provided, but previous F-35 production contracts were on more traditional "cost-plus" contract terms, which make the government liable for cost overruns. (Detailed story)

Hawker and Baton Rouge
Is Hawker Beechcraft going to move from Wichita, Kansas, to Baton Rouge, La.?

It's apparently been no secret that Hawker has been exploring the possibility of moving to a more affordable area. This summer there were reports the company was looking at Mississippi and Louisiana. Then Southern Business & Development wrote that Hawker made a deal to move to Baton Rouge. A television station has reported "multiple sources" saying an announcement would be made in November.

For what it's worth, Hawker is currently in contract negotiations with the machinists. (Detailed story)

Maj. Gen. C. R. Davis, Air Armament Center commander at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., has been nominated for appointment to lieutenant general. Davis arrived at Eglin in May 2009 and is responsible for the development, acquisition, testing, deployment and sustainment of all air-delivered weapons. Once confirmed, Davis will be reassigned to Hanscom AFB, Mass., as Commander, Electronic Systems Center.

- An F-15 Eagle engine at Arnold Air Force Base, Tenn., is undergoing performance testing using a unique blend of three different fuel types. The F100 engine is being tested with a combination of JP-8 conventional aviation fuel, a biofuel derived from an animal fat and a synthetic fuel derived from coal.

The fuels testing is being conducted to ensure the different fuels, in varying combinations, are suitable for an upcoming series of F-15 flight tests tentatively scheduled for October at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla.

L-3 Communications Vertex Aerospace, LLC, Madison, Miss., was awarded a $21 million modification to a previously awarded contract to provide logistics services and materials for organizational, intermediate, and depot level maintenance of 14 T39N and 6 T-39G aircraft at the Naval Air Station Pensacola, Fla. … Marianna Airmotive Corp., Cantonment, Fla., was awarded a $20 million contract to procure 18 national stock numbers of structural components, i.e., spoilers, applicable to C-5 aircraft. … Del-Jen Inc., Clarksville, Tenn., was awarded a $23.4 million modification of a previously awarded contract to exercise Option 3 for base operations support services at Naval Air Station Pensacola, Fla., and surrounding areas. The work to be performed provides for public works administration including labor, management, supervision, materials, supplies, and tools for facilities management. … Aerojet General Corp., Cordova, Calif., was awarded an $8 million contract to manufacture empty warhead cases to support the precision lethality MK82 quick reaction capability program. AAC/EBSK, Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., is the contracting activity. … Roy Anderson Corp., Gulfport, Miss., is being awarded $14.4 million for firm-fixed-price task order #0002 under a previously awarded multiple award construction contract for the addition to and alteration of Air Force Central Command Headquarters at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Week in review (9/12 to 9/18)

Flights of the Fire Scout unmanned helicopter the Navy is testing to operate from its warships will resume this week. The UAVs were grounded after operators lost control of one on Aug. 2 for about 20 minutes and it entered restricted airspace around Washington.

Operators regained control and it landed safely back at its base.

This time they'll be flying in Yuma, Ariz. The Navy had been flying Fire Scouts from a field near Naval Air Station Patuxent River in southern Maryland. Testing will resume there after engineers validate updated software for the aircraft. New software is scheduled to be installed early next month.

Fire Scouts are built in part in Moss Point, Miss.

The World Trade Organization dispute settlement panel ruled during the week that Boeing received U.S. government subsidies to develop aircraft. The interim ruling is confidential and a final ruling is not expected for several months.

Three months ago the WTO found that European countries provided illegal subsidies to Boeing rival Airbus. The biggest impact of the ruling could be forcing the United States and European Union to come up with a negotiated settlement on subsidies.

Boeing and Airbus parent, EADS, are competing for a $40 billion contract to build tankers for the U.S. Air Force. EADS wants to assemble its tankers in Mobile, Ala.

Airports and bases
The new head of the New Orleans airport said Louis Armstrong International suffers from major management and staffing deficiencies and is headed for more problems if things don't change quickly. Iftikhar Ahmad said the airport is understaffed, lacks an overall business strategy and there are no performance measures.

- Col. Richard McBride Jr. took command of the 81st Diagnostics and Therapeutics Squadron Tuesday at Keesler Air Force Base, Miss. He succeeds Col. Stephanie McCann, who retired Aug. 1. McBride's squadron consists of diagnostic imaging, nutritional medicine, pharmacy and pathology and clinical laboratory flights and is comprised of more than 300 military members and civilians.

It was snowing and temperatures reached 20 degrees inside the McKinley Climatic Lab at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., in preparation for testing snow traction and ice braking capabilities on vehicle tires. While the lab is primarily used to test military equipment in extremes, commercial customers can also use it. This time it was Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co.

It took two days to fill the 55,000 foot chamber with snow and reach the conditions required. The lab is the largest climatic lab in the world. It was established back in 1947.

Jacobs Technology Inc., Fort Walton Beach, Fla., was awarded $12 million for a task order under a previously awarded contract to provide support of the transition from the Navy/Marine Corps Intranet environment to the next Marine Corps Information Technology environment. The Marine Corps System Command, Quantico, Va., is the contracting activity. … EDO Communications & Countermeasures Systems Inc., Thousand Oaks, Calif., was awarded an $11.4 million contract modification to provide sustaining engineering services in support of the B-1 and B-52 mission data test laboratories and special test equipment. AAC/PKES, Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., is the contracting activity. … BAE Systems of Fort Walton Beach, Fla., was awarded a $38 million contract modification which will manage, operate, maintain and logistically support the solid state phase array radar system at five bases. 21 CONS/LGCZB, Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., is the contracting activity.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Week in review (9/5 to 9/11)

The week ended with an interesting item being reported by both Reuters and the Los Angeles Times: they raised the possibility of Boeing merging with Northrop Grumman. It made for a fascinating read, but likelihood? That's another matter.

Both news organizations said the possibility of such a combination came in the wake of comments by a Boeing executive during a Reuters summit. Dennis Muilenburg said the Chicago-based company is actively looking at potential acquisition opportunities amid prospects of sharp cuts in defense spending.

Muilenburg, chief executive of Boeing's defense, space and security division, said the company is targeting purchases of such businesses as unmanned aircraft, cyber security and intelligence and surveillance systems. Northrop already is a key player in those markets.

Northrop Grumman is exploring shedding its shipbuilding sector, and the company has really carved a major niche in high tech unmanned systems as well as systems integration. Such a merger would make Boeing a major player in UAVs, and would also give it a stake in the F-35.

But will regulators let that happen? Stay tuned. To read the Times story, click here. For the Reuters version, click here.

The target date to award the U.S. Air Force tanker contract may be slipping, according to military officials. An Air Force spokesman said the decision will be announced in the fall, possibly as late as Dec. 20. The Air Force previously said it expected to announce a winner by mid-November. Boeing and EADS are competing for the contract. EADS plans to assemble its tankers in Mobile, Ala.

In another tanker item, L-3 Communications said it's open to joining the rematch to build aerial tankers, despite halting talks in April with EADS. Chief Executive Michael Strianese said conditions had not been right at that time. "The door is still open if EADS wants to talk in the future, or Boeing for that matter," Strianese said at the Reuters Aerospace and Defense Summit in Washington.

The first Orion capsule passed a structural proof pressure test at the NASA Michoud Assembly Facility on Aug. 30. The proof test article will be used for ground and flight evaluations, which will correlate test data with analytical models to validate Orion’s flight design engineering. Lockheed Martin is outfitting the test unit with its final configuration of interior and exterior mass and volume simulators.

Officials in Plaquemines Parish, La., say the Army is considering building a missile test site at Port Eads. The Army told parish officials that it needs a site from which to launch missiles over the open waters of the Gulf of Mexico for "target practice." The Army Space and Missile Defense Command in Huntsville, Ala., said it received money for a feasibility study "to consider locations within the Gulf Coast region as potential sites for test and evaluation assets." The study is expected by the end of the month.

- Raytheon's Surface Launched Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missile system (SLAMRAAM) successfully participated in a ballistic test vehicle firing at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. The test included the firing of multiple AMRAAM missiles from the new family of medium tactical vehicle platform.

The new Federal Aviation Administration control tower at Gulfport-Biloxi International Airport in Mississippi was topped off during the week with a 50-foot-tall metal superstructure. That along with the existing concrete structure creates a 148-foot-tall tower that will replace the existing 90-foot-tall tower built in the 1970s.

Raytheon Missile Systems, Tucson, Ariz., was awarded a $25.8 million contract modification which will procure Radome Phase II Advanced medium range air to air missile. 695 ARSS/PK, Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., is the contracting activity. … Rehabilitation Services Mississippi, Madison, Miss., was awarded an $8 million contract modification which will procure full food services at Keesler Air Force Base, Miss. 81 CONS, Keesler Air Force Base, is the contracting activity. … Raytheon Missile Systems, Tucson, Ariz., was awarded a $6.9 million contract modification which will procure the study for the replacement for the Advanced Medium Range Air to Air Missile (AMRAAM) transponder module used in the AMRAAM telemetry section. AAC/EBAK, Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., is the contracting activity.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Week in review (8/29 to 9/4)

It's really satisfying when something you're told more than a year ago actually comes to fruition. It was in the summer of 2009 that I talked to NASA's Dr. Ramesh Kakar about the agency's plans to use Global Hawks to spy on hurricanes during the 2010 hurricane season. Now it's happened as he said it would.

During the week a NASA Global Hawk was sent over Hurricane Earl as part of the GRIP experiment. Earl was actually the third time a Global Hawk has flown over a tropical system. Days before spying on Earl, a Global Hawk was sent over Tropical Storm Frank in the Pacific. And during the 2008 hurricane season, a Navy Global Hawk flew over Hurricane Ike.

But the Earl mission is part of NASA's Genesis and Rapid Intensification Process, or GRIP, experiment that will be conducted throughout September. And it's an experiment that promises to be - to use a vastly overused phrase - a game-changer.

In the past, satellites as well as manned hurricane hunter aircraft were the primary tools used to keep a close watch on hurricanes. But the Global Hawk adds an entirely new dimension. It allows scientists to keep a persistent eye on a storm, and that's a big change. Instruments aboard low Earth orbiting satellites can only get a glimpse at hurricanes as they pass over on their fixed orbits. With a Global Hawk, those same cloud-piercing instruments can remain over a hurricane for hours on end, and provide moment by moment data on its development.

The Global Hawk left the Dryden Flight Research Center at Edwards Air Force Base., Calif., and spent all day Thursday over Earl. Flying above Earl at over 60,000 feet, it was able to watch as the hurricane strengthened and degraded over real time. It was able to look down into the eye of the storm from the top to the sea surface and compare different layers in relatively high resolution and in real time.

Kakar said last year that it would be an unprecedented look at the inner workings of a hurricane. The experiment is designed not only to help experts better understand which tropical disturbances will develop, but will help them predict which ones will intensify into monsters.

NASA received its Global Hawks from the Air Force back in late 2007. They are the first and sixth aircraft built under the original DARPA Advanced Concept Technology Demonstration program. The initial mission for the NASA birds was Global Hawk Pacific 2009, six long-duration missions over the Pacific and Arctic.

The Global Hawk is built by Northrop Grumman, and part of the work today is done at the company's Unmanned Systems Center in Moss Point, Miss.

If you're interested in reading that story from last year, you can click here. If you want to look at the full newsletter in which it appeared, click here.

Unmanned systems
Northrop Grumman has begun work on the first MQ-4 Broad Area Maritime Surveillance drone at the company's Moss Point, Miss. facility. The Global Hawk BAMS aircraft is the first of about 40 of the high-altitude spy drones that will serve the Navy.

BAMS is designed to work with the Navy's new P-8 maritime patrol planes. The BAMS UAV is a multi-mission maritime intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance system that will support a variety of missions while operating independently or in direct collaboration with fleet assets.

The Air Force version of the Global Hawk is the RQ-4. The Unmanned Systems Center at Moss Point does fuselage work on all the Global Hawks.

Mississippi's geospatial cluster now has a new organization. It's called the Magnolia Business Alliance. Mississippi has focused on building its cluster of geospatial businesses since the 1990s. It was first organized through the Mississippi Space Commerce Initiative, and that gave way to the Enterprise for Innovative Geospatial Solutions, based at the University of Mississippi in Oxford, Miss. MBA is a non-profit corporation that plans to continue the work of EIGS.

The Transportation Security Agency at Lindbergh Field in San Diego debuted its new full-body scanner. The TSA is rolling out 450 of the scanners in U.S. airports this year.

According to the machine's maker, California-based Rapiscan Systems, a low energy x-ray beam images the front and back of a person, compiling the data into a computer-generated image that can reveal objects concealed under clothing. Rapiscan has a manufacturing facility in Ocean Springs, Miss.

- A $35 million terminal expansion project at the city-owned Pensacola Gulf Coast Regional Airport is 98 percent complete. Greenhut Construction Co. was the general contractor for the expansion that began in August 2008 and was financed with airport revenue bonds and federal grants. The 1,400-acre Pensacola, Fla., airport offers 76 daily flights on six major air carriers. For the first seven months of this year, the airport handled 1.19 million passengers, up from 1.16 million in 2009.

Boeing received a contract from the Air Force to provide spare servo-actuators for the AC-130U gunship. The five-year contract is worth up to $7.2 million. Between now and July 2011, Boeing will provide 10 servo-actuators for the Trainable Gun Mount Systems needed to install 40-millimeter guns on four AC-130Us. The work will be performed by Boeing teams in Fort Walton Beach, Fla. ... Tybrin Corp., Fort Walton Beach, Fla., has been awarded a $38.7 million contract modification which will exercise Option Year Eight for software engineering support of guided weapons evaluations, simulations, and other services supporting research and development for the principals and customers of the Air Armament Center. AAC/PKET, Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., is the contracting activity. … InDyne Inc., Reston, Va., was awarded an $8.8 million contract modification which will provide photographic services associated with base support and the development, acquisition, testing, deployment, and sustainment of air-developed weapons including research, development, test, and evaluation photography. AAC/PKET, Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., is the contracting activity.