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.