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.

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