Saturday, August 13, 2011

Week in review (8/7 to 8/13)

An upcoming aerospace summit, a visit by the Atlantis crew to two NASA facilities, the role of Eglin’s 20th Space Control Squadron in the shuttle program, more signs of growth in the unmanned aerial systems field and word that Rolls-Royce is looking to expand its engine testing footprint in the United States all highlighted the Gulf Coast region's aerospace news during the week.

Aerospace summit
If you follow aerospace activities in the Gulf Coast region - and my guess is you do since you read this column - you'll be interested in a summit being held next month in Northwest Florida. The future of aerospace and aviation in the region and nation will be the focus of the Aerospace Alliance Summit, Sept. 15-16 at Sandestin Golf and Beach and Resort.

The summit is hosted by the Aerospace Alliance, a partnership of the states of Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi and Florida's Great Northwest. The group's goal is to market the Southeast region of the United States as a world-class aerospace and aviation corridor.

The Aerospace Alliance was formed in 2009 at the height of the battle between Boeing and EADS over a contract to build aerial tankers for the Air Force. The multi-state group made its mark early on, hosting some attention-grabbing galas at the Paris and Farnborough international air shows. (Invitation/registration)

Unmanned systems
The Navy during the week confirmed it's joining with the Army to buy dozens of a new class of medium-sized, unmanned helicopter that could be in service within five years, according to Flightglobal, citing an acquisition document. The agreement combines requirements for the Navy's medium-range maritime unmanned aircraft system and the Army's medium-range multi-purpose vertical take-off and landing system.

The Navy is already operating the Fire Scout unmanned helicopter, but both services are looking for a larger, more capable helicopter. Boeing is expected to offer its A160 Hummingbird and Northrop Grumman has proposed the MQ-8C Fire-X, which combines the Fire Scout operating system and a Bell 407 airframe. (Story) The Fire Scout is built in part in Moss Point, Miss., at the Unmanned Systems Center. That facility could eventually play a role as well in the Fire-X project.

- Also during the week, the Navy confirmed plans to retire the special mission versions of the Lockheed P-3 by 2020 and replace them with an all-unmanned fleet. Flightglobal reports that in written responses to the Senate Armed Services Committee late last month, incoming chief of naval operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert said the Navy's EP-3 Aries and special projects aircraft will be retired in 2019 and 2020.

They'll be replaced by an $8 billion investment over the next five years in a family of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance platforms, Greenert said. Those investments include $1.1 billion in the Northrop Grumman MQ-8B Fire Scout, $3.9 billion in the Northrop RQ-4N Global Hawk broad area maritime surveillance aircraft, $2.5 billion in the unmanned carrier-launched airborne surveillance and strike program and $1.1 billion in the medium-range maritime unmanned aircraft system.

The Navy believes its intelligence-collecting capabilities will be improved by transitioning to a larger fleet of long-endurance, unmanned aircraft, Greenert said. (Story)

This can't help but be good news for Moss Point, Miss. In addition to the Fire Scout, portions of the Global Hawk are also built there at the Northrop Grumman Unmanned Systems Center. It's been apparent for some time now that growth is in the cards.

According to defense analysts and consulting firm Teal Group, the business of unmanned aerial vehicles will rise from $5.9 billion to more than $13 billion over the next 10 years, despite declining defense budgets. Companies in the United States will account for 77 percent of the research and development of UAV technologies in the next decade.

To learn more about the Gulf Coast's unmanned systems activities, click here.

Crew members from the final mission of space shuttle Atlantis visited NASA's John C. Stennis Space Center, Miss., and Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans during the week to thank employees at both facilities and their families for their part in the success of the mission.

At SSC, hundreds crowded the auditorium of StenniSphere to hear pilot Doug Hurley, mission commander Chris Ferguson and mission specialists Sandra Magnus and Rex Waldheim share their appreciation and their experiences in space.

"Of all the NASA centers that are involved in human space flight, I think Stennis' future is probably the most clear at this point," said Ferguson. Stennis tested all the space shuttle main engines, and continues to test rocket engines for commercial companies.

"The space shuttle (main engines) that you've tested and operated here for probably at least 35 years was really one of the success stories," said Hurley.

Atlantis, launched on its maiden mission in October 1985, completed its final flight on July 21, marking the end of NASA's shuttle program. During its 26 years in service, Atlantis flew 33 missions and logged more than 131 million miles in space. Atlantis and sister crafts Discovery and Endeavour now are being prepared for permanent display at selected sites.

- When you think of space and the Gulf Coast, you think of Stennis Space Center, Miss., and Michoud Assembly Facility, New Orleans. But during the week a nod of recognition went out to Eglin Air Force Base, Fla.’s, 20th Space Control Squadron and the other units that are part of Peterson Air Force Base’s 21st Space Wing in Colorado.

A story written by the public affairs office at the 21st discussed the critical role of the organization in ensuring the safety and success of the shuttle program. In addition to the Eglin-based 20th, the other units involved were the 6th Space Warning Squadron at Cape Cod Air Force Station, Mass., and the 7th SWS at Beale Air Force Base, Calif. They tracked more than 22,000 near-earth and deep space objects, shuttle missions and the International Space Station.

From launch to landing these teams are tracking the shuttle and any objects that could potentially collide with the shuttle. "In 2009, observations collected by the 20th SPCS led NASA to evacuate astronauts from the International Space Station into the Russian Soyuz manned spacecraft after identifying objects with a close trajectory to the space station," said Capt. Aaron Lynch, 20th SPCS Operations Flight commander.

Most of the space debris are less than one millimeter in diameter and cause no damage, but the shuttle occasionally had to dodge objects if it was determined there was a one in 10,000 chance of a collision.

The shuttles are back on earth now, but the mission of the 6th SWS, 7th SWS and 20th SPCS continues.

"We continue to perform the space surveillance mission since there are still many objects up there (that) we want our functioning satellites to be able to avoid," said Capt. Chris Leininger, 7th SWS Operations Support Flight commander.

Additionally, the United States will continue to send astronauts to space using the Russian Soyuz capsule and the 6th SWS, 7th SWS and 20th SPCS will continue to closely monitor manned missions to the International Space Station. (Story)

To learn more about the Gulf Coast’s space activities, click here.

Rolls-Royce Group is studying locations in the United States and Germany for new engine test sites, the Telegraph reported during the week. The company told workers in Derby, England, where it employs 11,000, that it was considering sites outside of the United Kingdom.

Derby builds and tests the Trent XWB, which will go in the new Airbus A350. That program will continue in Derby, but the company says it's looking at new locations to help fulfill orders worth about $98 billion. Rolls-Royce could open test sites either in the United States or Germany or both, the Telegraph reported.

Rolls-Royce currently tests jet engines at NASA's John C. Stennis Space Center, Miss.

Construction will resume at the air traffic control tower at Gulfport-Biloxi International Airport in Mississippi on Monday. Work on the $12 million project in Gulfport was halted last month when Congress failed to provide funding for infrastructure projects. Congress has since approved a budget and the work in Gulfport, and other sites nationwide, can now proceed.

- Vision Airlines will discontinue service from Northwest Florida Regional Airport at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., to selected destinations during the fall and winter. The reduced schedule will start Aug. 19, when the airline cuts service to Lafayette and Shreveport, La., Chattanooga and Knoxville, Tenn., and Asheville, N.C. Vision made the announcement as it released its fall and winter flight schedule.

Among the geekiest
The Fort Walton Beach-Crestview-Destin metro area in Northwest Florida is ranked 20 on Forbes list of America’s Geekiest Cities. That means it has a lot of people with degrees in science and engineering-related fields. Of the workforce in the Fort Walton Beach Metropolitan Statistical Area, 8.8 percent or some 7,200 workers are employed in the science, technology, engineering or mathematics field. Much of that is due to Eglin Air Force Base, which acts as a magnet for technology-oriented defense contractors.

Lockheed Martin Corp., Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co., Fort Worth, Texas, was awarded a $535.3 million advance acquisition contract to provide long lead parts and components required for the manufacture of 38 Low Rate Initial Production Lot VI F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter aircraft. Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., is home of the F-35 training center.

Tidbits from other fields
Shipbuilding: Construction on a $144 million shipping vessel for Honolulu-based Pasha Hawaii began during the week with the cutting of the first piece of steel at VT Halter Marine’s shipyard in Pascagoula, Miss. The ship will provide weekly service between the West Coast and Hawaii. … Huntington Ingalls Industries' third U.S. Coast Guard National Security Cutter, Stratton (WMSL 752), returned to Pascagoula, Miss., after successfully completing two days of acceptance sea trials in the Gulf of Mexico. The 418-foot NSC is the flagship of the Coast Guard's cutter fleet. Stratton is scheduled for delivery to the Coast Guard on Sept. 2.
Marine science: The Marine Technology Society and Mississippi Enterprise for Technology are hosting the Oceans in Action Workshop Aug. 22 and 23 at the Imperial Palace Casino in Biloxi, Miss. The workshop focuses on how marine technology is applied to real-world issues.