Saturday, August 27, 2011

Week in review (8/21 to 8/27)

Stennis Space Center, Miss., has been a big economic engine for the region for years. The federal facility is home to NASA's rocket testing facilities and 30 other agencies, including the Navy and its oceanography operations. SSC had a direct global economic impact in 2010 of $875 million. In a 50-mile radius the impact was $616 million.

Not bad at all. But in the past couple of years the 14,000 acre site, surrounded by a 124,000 acre buffer zone, seems to be gearing up to become even more of a powerhouse in the region. In October 2009, 3,900 acres of NASA land at Stennis Space Center received "Project Ready" certification by Mississippi Power.

The Project Ready program highlights areas that are near utilities and ready for development. At the time, SSC officials pointed out that there's even more acreage, but that the 3,900 acres are all close to roads and utilities and it would be well-suited for aerospace companies and others that are either national in scope or somehow involved in space activities.

Then last week NASA got more acreage along with more building space. The former Mississippi Army Ammunition Plant, initially designed to make munitions, was formally turned over by the Army to NASA. That provides an additional 1.6 million square feet to what NASA already controls at SSC. The increase is considerable – about 33 percent more.

The Army plant hasn't made munitions since 1990 and was deactivated in 1992. About half the space is already occupied by a dozen employers, including Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne, the Government Printing Office, Department of Energy and the Department of Homeland Security's National Center for Critical Information Processing and Storage.

One of the reasons this is so significant is because NASA is pushing much of its near-Earth work to commercial companies so it can concentrate on missions into deep space. The thinking is SSC is a great location for companies interested in either of those activities.

Now consider this: About 40 miles away from SSC is NASA's Michoud Assembly Facility in east New Orleans. There's a lot of available space at that facility, which is no longer making external tanks for the Space Shuttle program, and there's also some 800 acres NASA would like to turn into an advanced manufacturing park. Combined the Stennis-Michoud area appears to have a lot of potential.

For some background on the Gulf Coast's space activities, click here.

The Air Force officially rolled out the F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter during a ceremony late in the week at the 58th Fighter Squadron Hanger at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. According to press reports, hundreds of people attended the event, hosted by Gen. Edward Rice, Air Education and Training Command commander.

Eglin is home of the F-35 training center, where pilots and maintainers from the Air Force, Navy, Marines and foreign nations will train with three variants of the fighter. Florida Sen. Don Gaetz said the F-35 will have a big impact on Northwest Florida.

- The production version of the F-35 has been cleared to fly, according to Lockheed Martin. As pointed out in a story in the Air Force Times, the entire JSF fleet was grounded Aug. 2 after one jet suffered a malfunction of the integrated power package. A dozen instrumented test aircraft were OKd to fly Aug. 18, and now a half-dozen production jets, including two at Eglin, can take to the air.

The Air Force and Lockheed Martin signed a five-year deal to further sensors technology. The cooperative research and development agreement signed Friday will assess the viability of Lockheed's cooled tri-mode seeker for integration into Air Force weapon platforms. The work will be done with the Air Force Research Lab's Munitions Directorate at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., according to the Dayton Business Journal.

Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport, which opened in May 2010, hopes a $475,000 federal grant will help it plan for future expansion, according to the Panama City News Herald. The Transportation Department grant will be used to hire a company to develop short- and long-term forecasts for future passenger traffic. Last month the airport, north of Panama City, Fla., marked the million-passenger milestone.

Tidbits from other fields
Shipbuilding: The University of New Orleans received $306,216 from the Department of Defense to buy equipment that features a welding technique that has been used on the space shuttle's external tank. The friction stir welding equipment will be used on ships, according to the New Orleans Times-Picayune.
Marine science: The Mobile Press-Register reported during the week that oil was found floating on the surface of the Gulf of Mexico near the site of last year's Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Later in the week BP and the U.S. Coast Guard's Gulf Coast Incident Management Team conducted a visual inspection of the well, according to the New Orleans Times-Picayune, and said there is no release of oil occurring at the well. … A year ago, at the height of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, much of the seafloor off the Alabama coast was dead. But things look much different now. Several times this spring the Mobile Press-Register returned to three natural gas platforms visited during the summer of 2010. Instead of swimming through a dead sea and finding oxygen levels far below the threshold required to support marine animals, there was abundant life.
Advanced materials: Three University of Southern Mississippi professors and a team of 10 students have come up with an experimental substance to help clean up an oil spill, according to the Hattiesburg American. The substance is renewable and non-toxic and made from plants. The two key ingredients are cellulose and soy lecithin.