Saturday, May 28, 2011

Week in review (5/22 to 5/28)

So, you thought the Orion crew capsule from the canceled Constellation Program was dead? Well, not exactly. NASA said last week that a new spacecraft to take humans into deep space will be based on designs for the Orion crew exploration vehicle. And it will be built by Lockheed Martin, which also built Orion.

Orion, originally designed to take astronauts back to the moon, is a surviving component of the Constellation manned space exploration program canceled by President Barack Obama last year. The new spacecraft is called the Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV) and will carry four astronauts for 21-day missions and be able to land in the Pacific. NASA has spent some $5 billion on Orion since it awarded Lockheed Martin the prime contract in September 2006. NASA still needs to finalize plans for a heavy lift vehicle.

What this may mean for the Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans may be a bit early to tell. Lockheed Martin built the Orion ground test article at Michoud, and it's likely it would be involved in any variation of the crew vehicle.

Blue Angels
The commander of the Navy's Blue Angels flight demonstration team, Navy Cmdr. Dave Koss, voluntarily stepped down from the team after some of its jets flew at a lower altitude than allowed at a Virginia air show last weekend. The team is on indefinite stand-down. Koss is being replaced by Navy Capt. Greg McWherter, who commanded the team before Koss took over in November 2010.

Future JSF maintainers Air Force maintainers are getting hands-on experience with the F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md. Seven airmen from the 33rd Fighter Wing at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., were at the Navy station for 75 days to gain first-hand experience maintaining the F-35B and F-35C variants, while those aircraft continue flight test and evaluation.

They are the second group from the Wing to visit the F-35 test facility at Pax River. The crew arrived April 19 and another group is expected to follow this summer. Lockheed Martin is scheduled to deliver the F-35A aircraft AF-8 to Eglin later this year.

Northwest Florida Regional Airport had the busiest month in its 54-year history in April. The airport at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., had 96,788 passengers, up 43 percent from April 2010. Last month's figure also outpaced the airport’s previous high set in July 2001 by more than 13 percent. Greg Donovan, the airport director, said Vision Airlines, which expanded its service to 15 new destinations in late March and early April, was the overwhelming reason.

- Regent Aerospace, which overhauls aircraft seats and interiors, is temporarily suspending operations at Brookley Aeroplex in Mobile, Ala., because it has yet to obtain a required Federal Aviation Administration approval. Mike Lilley, vice president of California-based Regent, said seats now being worked on will be taken back to the firm's Indianapolis facility, and that the 20 Mobile workers will also be relocated there temporarily. Regent hopes to get the approval from the FAA and reopen in Mobile within two weeks.

Raytheon Missile Co., Tucson, Ariz., was awarded an $83 million contract modification for the Miniature Air Launched Decoy low rate initial production lot four. AAC/EBJM, Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., is the contracting activity. … Textron Systems Corp., Wilmington, Mass., was awarded a $9.9 million contract modification for the Sensor Fuzed Weapon India Foreign Military Sales case integration phase one eight-month effort. AAC/EBJI, Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., is the contracting activity. … Aerojet General Corp. of Rancho Cordova, Calif., was awarded a $31.8 million contract modification for the procurement of warhead cases and internal components to support the Precision Lethality MK82 Quick Reaction Capability program. The contracting activity is AAC/EBSK, Eglin Air Force Base, Fla.

Tidbits from other fields
Shipbuilding: The William P. Lawrence arrived in Mobile on Friday, where the crew will remain until the formal commissioning ceremony on June 4. After the commissioning, the ship, built in Pascagoula, Miss., by Ingalls Shipbuilding, will head for its home port in San Diego. … General Dynamics National Steel and Shipbuilding Co., San Diego, Calif., was awarded a $744 million modification to previously awarded contract for the procurement of the detail design and construction of two mobile landing platform ships. Some of the work will be done in Mobile, Ala., and Belle Chasse, La. … VT Halter Marine won a contract to build a 112-foot offshore articulated tug barge for New York-based Bouchard Transportation Co. Inc. The dollar figure was not disclosed. Construction is set to begin next month at the Moss Point and Escatawpa yards, both in Mississippi. … A new ship designed to carry a billion-dollar ballistic missile tracking radar failed its acceptance trials earlier this month and will need repairs before it can enter service. The Howard O. Lorenzen, built by VT Halter Marine at Moss Point, Miss., will be repaired at Kiewit Offshore Services in Corpus Christi, Texas. … As the Avondale shipyard moves toward closing in 2013, researchers from several universities are teaming to study the 73-year-old facility's economic and cultural contributions to the region.

Geospatial: NASA’s Applied Science and Technology Project Office at the John C. Stennis Space Center has provided satellite images to the Army Corps of Engineers and Louisiana showing large amounts of sediment throughout coastal Louisiana as a result of flooding on the Mississippi River. The U.S. Geological Survey and NASA are providing satellite imagery to help in flood response efforts.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Week in review (5/15 to 5/21)

Those Army Fire Scouts that were sitting idle at the Northrop Grumman Unmanned Systems Center in Moss Point, Miss., after the Army dropped the Fire Scout program are finally going to be used - by the Navy.

Northrop Grumman Systems Corp., Aerospace Systems Unmanned Systems, San Diego, Calif., was awarded a $42 million modification to a previously awarded contract to convert eight Army Vertical Takeoff and Landing Tactical Unmanned Aerial Vehicles to Navy configuration.

Nearly all the work, 71 percent, will be done in Moss Point, with the rest being done in San Diego, Calif. The project will be finished in February 2013. The Naval Air Systems Command, Patuxent River, Md., is the contracting activity.

The Navy apparently really likes its Fire Scouts, and other unmanned systems as well.

According to National Defense magazine, Adm. Gary Roughead, chief of naval operations, earlier this month has expressed satisfaction with the initial tests and deployments of several unmanned prototypes. The goal is to field a squadron of drones to operate aboard aircraft carriers later this decade.

Roughead was "extraordinarily pleased" with the initial flights of the Northrop Grumman X-47B unmanned combat system demonstrator. Importantly, the aircraft executed "dead-on" landings, crucial for operating on carrier flight decks, according to the article.

And the Fire Scout? The UAV, in trial deployments, is operating aboard a frigate in support of special operations forces and accumulating hours at a steady rate. The Navy also has deployed several Fire Scouts into Afghanistan to support ground troops.

This has just got to be gratifying for the workers in Moss Point who have been participating in the building of Fire Scouts right from the start. The company has said in the past that the team in Moss Point beat expectations of their learning curve.

All this is going on at the same time Northrop Grumman and Bell are working on the Fire-X, a larger version of the Fire Scout based on a Bell helicopter.

EADS North America delivered the first of six UH-72A Lakota Light Utility Helicopters to the South Dakota Army National Guard during a delivery ceremony at the Crazy Horse Memorial in South Dakota's Black Hills.

The UH-72A Lakota is produced by American Eurocopter in its Columbus, Miss., manufacturing facility at the Golden Triangle Regional Airport. The South Dakota Army National Guard will ultimately receive six Lakota helicopters, four in the Medical Evacuation configuration and two in the Security and Support Battalion configuration.

System Studies and Simulation Inc., Huntsville, Ala., was awarded a $10.3 million firm-fixed-price contract to provide advanced aircraft flight training services at the U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence, Fort Rucker, Ala. Work will be performed in Fort Rucker, Ala., with an estimated completion date of May 22, 2012. The U.S. Army Mission and Installation Contracting Center, Fort Rucker, Ala., is the contracting activity. … The Boeing Co., St. Louis, Mo., was awarded a $9.3 million firm-fixed-price contract modification to provide 389 MK-82 SAASM/AJ Joint Direct Attack Munitions under production Lot 15. AAC/EBDK, Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., is the contracting activity.

Tidbits from other fields
Shipbuilding: The Navy's latest Aegis guided missile destroyer, the William P. Lawrence, left Ingalls Shipbuilding in Pascagoula, Miss., Thursday and headed out for several days in the Gulf of Mexico. It will later arrive in Mobile, Ala., for its June 4 commissioning before heading to its home port in San Diego.

Marine science: As record amounts of freshwater headed down the Mississippi River toward the Mississippi Sound, the oyster industry can expect to face extreme losses, an official with the Department of Marine Resources said Tuesday in Biloxi, Miss. … Alabama researchers fishing within 15 miles of Dauphin Island, Ala., caught more than 300 red snapper and found no sign of infection. That appears to contradict a team from Louisiana State University who earlier reported catching some fish in the same area that showed signs of disease. Concern over marine life increased in the wake of last year's Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Week in review (5/8 to 5/14)

During the past week, an Air Force Reserve wing in the region got a new commander, contracts for engines were awarded in the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program, the first JSF production model that will come to Eglin Air Force Base flew for the first time, and the Air Force picked a company to handle housing at two area bases.

New commander
The 403rd Wing at Keesler Air Force Base, Miss., now has a new commander. It's Col. Jay D. Jensen. The command changed during a ceremony at the Event Center, during which the flag passed from Brig. Gen. James Muscatell Jr. to Jensen. From April 1999 to July 2008, Jensen served with the 403rd at Keesler, working with the 815th Airlift Squadron. Muscatell commanded the wing since January 2009. He’s heading for Scott Air Force Base, Illinois.

There's now a contractor that's been signed up to build privatized housing at Eglin Air Force Base and Hurlburt Field. The Air Force said Picerne Military Housing will build the homes and be the landlord to active-duty service members for the next 50 years. The Air Force contract also includes bases in California, Alaska, Kansas and North Carolina. The developer will build up to 929 homes at Eglin and 484 homes on Hurlburt.

New Jersey-based DRS Technologies has laid off about 65 workers from its Fort Walton Beach, Fla., office. The layoffs were the second time this year that workers were let go. DRS cut 38 employees in February. Officials blame it on the ebb and flow of contracts. The office in Commerce and Technology Park specializes in communications, unmanned aircraft and boarder security products. It now has about 790 people.

Pratt and Whitney, which makes the primary engine for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, was awarded two contracts valued during the week for 38 engines.

The largest contract was $910 million for 36 low rate initial production F-135 engines. The contract is for 12 conventional take off and landing propulsion systems for the Air Force, 18 short take off and vertical land engine systems for the Marine Corps, one short take off and vertical land engines for the United Kingdom, and five carrier variant engines for the Navy.

The contract converts a previously awarded undefinitized contract to a fixed-incentive-fee contract. It combines purchases for the Navy ($638,956,839; 70.2 percent), Air Force ($222,506,542; 24.45 percent) and the United Kingdom ($48,691,764; 5.35 percent).

Pratt and Whitney also was awarded a $35.5 million contract to provide for additional procurement of one F-135 carrier variant engine for the Navy and one short take off and vertical landing spare engine for the Marines. The Naval Air Systems Command, Patuxent River, Md., is the contracting activity for both contracts.

Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., will be the Joint Strike Fighter training center. The first F-35A production aircraft that will be delivered to Eglin made its first flight on May 6, according to Aerospace and Defense News. Known as AF-8, the aircraft will be delivered to Eglin for pilot and maintainer training later this year.

Lockheed Martin Corp., Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control, Orlando, Fla., was awarded a $45.8 million contract modification for 75 baseline missiles for the Joint-Air-to-Surface-Missiles Program Office. Work will be done in Orlando. The AAC/EBJK, Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., is the contracting activity.

Tidbits from other fields
Shipbuilding: Huntington Ingalls Industries' Pascagoula shipyard won a $2.7 million grant for a project to improve shipyard welding. Ingalls was one of six shipyards sharing about $14.6 million in project grants from the National Shipbuilding Research Program to develop a process to eliminate over-welding to reduce distortion.

Materials: DuPont said it will expand its global titanium dioxide production by about 350,000 metric tons to meet increasing demand for the pigment. The expansion includes a new production line at the company's Altamira, Mexico, site, and improvements at other production facilities, including the DeLisle plant in South Mississippi.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Week in review (5/1 to 5/7)

For anyone who has an outdated idea of the Gulf Coast region, they might do well to keep an eye on efforts to increase interest in science, technology, engineering and math. It's happening in Pensacola, Fla., Mobile, Ala., and Bay St. Louis, Miss., through three developing science learning centers.

This cluster of science learning centers along the Interstate 10 corridor is being established at a time when the nation is struggling to get young people interested in STEM careers. And those careers are crucial to keep the United States a world leader in innovation.

In Pensacola, the National Flight Academy at Naval Air Station Pensacola was "christened" Friday as "Ambition." The flight academy isn't finished yet, but the building near the Naval Aviation Museum is moving towards completion.

The flight academy will offer aerospace-related, week-long sessions to students in seventh through 12th grades. The key is to make learning science, technology, engineering and math fun, in this case through designing an academy that looks and feels like an aircraft carrier, complete with ready rooms and more.

The first class will attend the academy in May 2012.

To the west in Mobile, the GulfQuest National Maritime Museum of the Gulf Coast plans to open in 2012. And the reason behind it is the same, making science, technology, engineering and math a fun experience. The Mobile attraction will focus on the Gulf of Mexico, the ninth largest body of water in the world, and the museum will be a replica of a container ship “docked” inside the building.

Topics that will be highlighted at the museum include marine archaeology, Gulf animal and plant life, coastal environments and more. Visitors will also learn a lot about maritime commerce and shipbuilding, including navigation.

Go even further west near the Mississippi and Louisiana state line and you'll find the Infinity Science Center, south of NASA’s John C. Stennis Space Center and west of the current Interstate 10 Welcome Center in Mississippi.

This 72,000 square-foot attraction that's still being built will allow visitors to explore the farthest reaches of outer space, the depths of the oceans and the varied layers of the Earth. In the Welcome Center they’ll encounter "Science Express," fast-paced activities aimed at drop-in visitors and designed to whet their appetites to explore the main galleries that focus on Earth, oceans and space.

The Infinity Web site says the mission is to create an attraction "that will inspire, amaze and engage those who visit." It's set up in a way that invites visitors to explore through deepening levels of involvement, and being so close to the interstate it's likely to attract a lot of people driving through the region.

What strikes me is that we have a lot of sci-tech activities in this region, but much of the publicity about the Gulf Coast in recent years has focused on disasters, from hurricanes to the oil spill. A lot is occurring that gets little attention from the outside world. My guess is that if these centers at some point get together for some type of joint promotion, it could have a huge impact on the image of this region.

If you're interested in reading more about these science centers, the Mississippi Gulf Coast Alliance for Economic Development's quarterly newsletter, Alliance Insight, has a story about the "Gulf Coast's Sci-Techland," beginning on page 6. (Story, newsletter)

In aerospace news of interest to the Gulf Coast during the week:

Unmanned systems
A Predator squadron may be coming to Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., but the 140 personnel associated with the squadron won't be bringing a UAV with them.

The Air Force said during the week that Eglin is a candidate for an Air Force Reserve Command MQ-1 Remote Split-Operation squadron. The primary mission of an MQ-1 RSO squadron is to support the MQ-1 Predator aircraft operations that conduct close air support, air interdiction, and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.

Remote split-operations consist of launching a drone via line-of-sight operations from one location, and controlling the aircraft remotely from a mission control element that is operated at another location beyond line-of-site.

Officials will begin conducting evaluations of Eglin, covering a range of operational and facility issues. Based on the results of these efforts, officials expect to announce the preferred alternative before the summer's end.

NASA paid tribute to Roy S. Estess, the late director of John C. Stennis Space Center in Miss., by naming a building in his memory and establishing an annual public service leadership award in his name.

Estess, a Mississippi native and graduate of Mississippi State University, served as director of Stennis Space Center from 1989 to 2002. He earned a reputation as an agency pioneer, as well as a mentor and coach to many who later led or still lead throughout NASA.

"His legacy will not be forgotten," Stennis Director Patrick Scheuermann said during a May 2 ceremony at the south Mississippi facility.

- NASA has awarded five sole source contracts to Aerospace Corp. of El Segundo, Calif., for specialized engineering, evaluation and test services. These five contracts will support eight NASA centers, including John C. Stennis Space Center, Miss., and have a total maximum value of $658.25 million.

Northwest Florida Regional Airport at Eglin Air Force Base/Valparaiso will spend more than a half-million dollars to market Vision Airlines in its five newest destinations. The $550,000 will pay for billboard, newspaper and television advertising for the new flights to and from Las Vegas, St. Louis, Fort Lauderdale, Memphis, Tenn., and Lafayette, La. The flights are scheduled to start the week of June 1.

Blue Angels
The Navy's Blue Angels flight demonstration team performed over Florida's Pensacola Bay during the week in commemoration of the centennial of naval aviation. The performances were Tuesday and Wednesday. There were also vintage aircraft fly-bys and various other flight demonstrations during the two-day event.

Tidbits from other fields
Shipbuilding: The Army has transferred to the Navy all five of its Joint High Speel Vessels. Initially the program was envisioned to have five of the first 10 JHSVs assigned to the Army, with the Navy getting the rest. Both services agreed in December 2010 to assign them all to the Navy. The ships are built by Austal USA in Mobile, Ala.

Marine science: The Army Corps of Engineers plans to open the Bonnet Carre Spillway Monday, sending fresh water through Lake Pontchartrain then into the Gulf of Mexico because of the rising Mississippi River. One concern, in addition to the impact on marine life, is it could impact the oil spill research.