Saturday, March 24, 2012

Week in review (3/18 to 3/24)

A gentleman from Rolls Royce made an interesting comment earlier this month when discussing that company's engine-testing activities at Stennis Space Center, Miss. According to the Sun Herald, he said it's easier to get people from outside this country to come to Mississippi than to get people from the United States to move there.

I mentioned that comment to a university official when I was talking to him about space activities in the region, and he agreed that it's still a problem getting people to understand some of the cutting-edge work done in Mississippi. I told him that a high-ranking NASA official once told me that it's only after people come down for a visit that they understand "we're not just dirt roads."

Getting outsiders to understand is one thing. But I'll take it a step further. I'm not sure people in this region understand what's here. The aerospace industry and its footprint in this region is a perfect example. During the Aerospace Alliance Summit in Sandestin, Fla., last year, I was sitting at a table with a gentleman from a major defense company who works at Stennis Space Center. He said he didn't know that Global Hawk and Fire Scout UAVs are built to the east of SSC in Moss Point, Miss.

In an age where we're inundated with information -- often trivial things that occupy our time rather than engage our minds -- it's getting increasingly difficult to be heard above the noise. Old stereotypes and bad publicity in recent years from Hurricane Katrina and the BP oil spill, leave a lasting impression that's hard to overcome.

That's the real purpose of this column, to show we're far more than what people picture.

Now for the week in review:

Lawmakers are taking issue with the Pentagon over the request for two new BRAC rounds. One reason is the cost at a time of belt tightening. Savings won't come for years.

Sens. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., and Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., the chair and ranking member, respectively, of the Senate Armed Services' Readiness and Management Support Subcommittee, denounced the Pentagon's request for a base closure round in 2013. McCaskill said she's willing to allow the closure of bases overseas, but not domestic bases at this point.

For its part, the Pentagon has said the request for two new rounds of BRAC should be compared to the cost effectiveness of the first four BRAC rounds, not those done in 2005 to transform installations to match force structure. The issue is of high interest to the Interstate 10 region, where the military is a major pillar of this region’s economy. (Post)

NASA's Stennis Space Center in Mississippi hopes to get a company interested in the E-4 Test Facility. Stennis Engineering and Test Directorate Associate Director John Stealey said the under-utilized test stand is a "great opportunity" for a company interested in a partnership with NASA.

The federal agency first indicated in November that it was interested in marketing the facility, which includes a high-bay work area, control room space, personnel offices and concrete test cells. It also has road and barge canal access and utilities, and can be expanded for future needs. (Post)

-- Testing of a vital component for the brand new A-3 test stand at Stennis Space Center, Miss., uncovered a flaw in the chemical steam generator (CSG). During tests at the E-2 facility, technicians found the two-inch angle-globe valves supplied with the unit were unable to stand up to operating conditions. The procurement office is issuing a request for proposal from small businesses for 27 liquid oxygen (LOX) valves, 27 isopropyl alcohol (IPA) valves and related items.

The new A-3 test stand will use nine three-module CSG units to generate superheated steam needed to create a vacuum that allows operators to test next-generation rocket engines at simulated high altitudes up to 100,000 feet. (Post)

-- A Web tool that tracks threats to the nation's forests has been released by the Forest Service. Called ForWarn, it's a satellite-based monitoring and assessment tool that can detect threats from fire, disease or other causes before the threat increases in severity or extent.

It provides information on weekly changes in forest canopy conditions as they are impacted by insects, diseases, wildfires or extreme weather events. NASA's Stennis Space Center worked with the Forest Service to develop the system that covers 747 million acres of forest in the United States. (Post)

-- The first Space Based Infrared System geosynchronous earth orbit satellite is exceeding performance requirements in a series of tests. SBIRS GEO 1 was launched by an Atlas V in May 2011 from Florida. Within two months it began sharing initial data with mission partners to determine performance.

Sensors are detecting targets 25 percent dimmer than requirements, and payload pointing is nine times more precise than required. SBIRS provides early missile warning capability and improves other critical mission areas.SBIRS is an A2100 satellite-based spacecraft, and work on the A2100 core's propulsion system, which positions the spacecraft in orbit, is done at Stennis Space Center, Miss. (Post)

New project
Brazil's Embraer is establishing an aviation research, development and design center in Melbourne, Fla., that will employ 200 engineers and skilled workers and will initially focus on business jet interior design work.

The 67,000-square-foot Embraer Engineering and Technology Center will be adjacent to Embraer's new 80,000-square-foot business jet final assembly plant at Melbourne International Airport. The first assembly plant outside Brazil last year began assembling Phenom 100 and 300 business jets.

For the design center, Space Florida, a state-backed economic development agency, will build and own the facility and finance $18.2 million for the project. Another $6 million will come from the Florida Innovation Fund. (Stories: Reuters, Flightglobal)

It's still unclear at this point if Embraer, the world's third largest producer of commercial aircraft, will be building Super Tucano A-29 light support aircraft in Jacksonville. The Air Force canceled a $355 million contract to Sierra Nevade Corp. and Embraer after Wichita-based Hawker Beechcraft protested the December award. Hawker’s AT-6 was kept out of the competition. (Post)

By the way, if you're interested in "connections," the AT-6 I just mentioned became the first fixed-wing aircraft to launch a laser-guided rocket during a test at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. The rockets were BAE System's Advanced Precision Kill Weapon System and Raytheon's TALON. (Post)

US Airways decided to add a second Northwest Florida Regional Airport to Ronald Regan Washington National Airport service even before the first one got under way. The first flight, a late afternoon flight, begins Sunday on a 50-seat regional jet. But beginning July 11 a morning flight will be added. The airport is at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. (Post)

-- The Navy's Blue Angels flight demonstration team is back in Pensacola after 12 weeks of training in El Centro, Calif. The team's practice sessions are open to the public. Regular practice takes place most Tuesdays and Wednesday through November. (Post)

In Florida, Naval Surface Warfare Center Panama City Division scientists and engineers have designed unmanned system controllers for a younger generation of sailor raised on video-game controllers. The proof-of-concept uses an Xbox Kinect to deliver gesture-based robotic controls.

Gesture-based robot control and similar approaches that utilize "human-centric" interaction with unmanned-systems opens a door to the future of effective human-robot teams in which communication is natural. Speech, gestures, and facial expressions, are intuitive and can reduce training requirements. (Post)

-- At the Army's Aberdeen Test Center, the Naval Research Laboratory successfully demonstrated the robotic fluids transfer from a stationary platform to an unmanned surface vehicle in wave heights greater than three feet.

The Rapid Autonomous Fuel Transfer project was able to track the motion of a Sea Fox naval vessel, emplace a magnetic refueling fitting to an on-board receptacle and complete fluids transfer. Further robotic transfer tests may include land-based autonomous vehicles and unmanned aerial vehicle. (Post)

A robotic refueling system has also been tested by researchers at the Air Force Research Laboratory's Airbase Technologies Division, Robotics Research Team at Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla. The idea is to come up with an alternative to manual refueling, reducing the number of people needed near each aircraft during 'hot-pit refueling' when one of more of the engines are running.

-- NASA and General Motors are jointly developing a robotic glove that astronauts and autoworkers can wear to help do their jobs better while potentially reducing the risk of repetitive stress injuries. The Human Grasp Assist device, called the K-glove or Robo-Glove, resulted from NASA and GM's Robonaut 2 project, which launched the first humanoid robot into space in 2011.

R2 is a permanent resident of the International Space Station, and one of the Robonaut's requirements was an ability to operate tools designed for human. The glove uses a combination of sensors and actuators to achieve dexterity. Continuous gripping of a tool can cause fatigue, but a grip can be held longer with Robo-Glove. (Story)

Speaking of R2, the Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition in Pensacola, Fla., has been involved in coming up with a locomotion system for Robonaut 2. You can read a background story that appeared in an April 2011 science and technology newsletter by clicking here.

The future USS Zumwalt completed a major developmental test during the week when it demonstrated the integration of the engineering control system software and the ship's integrated power system. The test, which marks the successful completion of the second of two developmental tests, verified the software and hardware compatibility and interoperability between the ECS hardware and the IPS.

Bath Iron Works in Maine is building the Zumwalt, but the Ingalls composite center of excellence in Gulfport, Miss., builds composite deckhouse and hangars for the ship and the Pascagoula yard builds steel units that support the composite deliveries and the aft peripheral vertical launch system ship sections. (Post)

-- Shipbuilder Austal USA of Mobile, Ala., earned the Award for Excellence in Safety from the Shipbuilders Council of America, a national trade association of the shipbuilding industry. Austal builds littoral combat ships and joint high-speed vessels for the U.S. military. (Post)