Saturday, March 31, 2012

Week in review (3/25 to 3/31)

United Technologies' proposed purchase of Goodrich is causing some concerns in Europe. The European Commission fears that the combined company could be too dominant in engine controls and power generators.

UT unveiled the $16.5 billion takeover in September last year, which would reinforce its presence in the civilian aerospace market. Goodrich parts are used on the Boeing 787 Dreamliner and Airbus' A320neo. The closer look by the EU could last until August.

Hartford, Conn.-based UT's aviation activities include Sikorsky and Pratt and Whitney, and it makes an array of products, including rocket engines, helicopters and elevators. Charlotte, N.C.-based Goodrich makes aircraft equipment including landing gears and electrical power systems.

UT's Pratt and Whitney Rocketdyne, which the company has said it wants to sell, has an operation at Stennis Space Center, Miss., and Goodrich has a service center in Foley, Ala. (Post)

Speaking of Rocketdyne, the five F-1 engines that powered the first stage of the Saturn V rocket that launched Apollo 11 for its rendezvous with the moon have been found in the Atlantic Ocean.

Bezos Expeditions, owned by founder Jeff Bezos, believes it located the engines that dropped into the Atlantic after boosting the rocket. Bezos said he hopes to raise one or more of the engines, which are owned by NASA, to put on display.

The five engines, built in California, were assembled into the first stage at Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans. The engines were tested at Stennis Space Center, Miss.

The five-engine F-1 cluster was test-fired for the first time at SSC in March 1967. With 7.5 million pounds of thrust, it shattered windows in nearby communities despite SSC's huge buffer zone. (Post)

The aforementioned Bezos is also the founder of Blue Origin of Kent, Wash., which in April will test its BE-3 engine thrust chamber assembly at Stennis Space Center’s E-1 test stand. Blue Origin is one of the companies that plans to do some of the low-Earth orbit work formally done by NASA.

OK, talking about rocket engines is a good way to get into this next topic: space debris.

Let’s face it, we're good at littering. If you think it's not a problem given the vast reaches of space, well, that's true if you're in the vast reaches of space. But we're working much closer to Earth -- think of it as being near the shoreline. And in that realm there's a lot of stuff orbiting this planet. It includes stuff we're currently using as well stuff that's no longer serving a purpose.

According to NASA, there's 21,000 orbital debris larger than 10 cm, or 3.9 inches. Another 500,000 particles are between 1 and 10 cm and more than 100 million particles are smaller than 1 cm. Still, they are traveling so fast they can cause damage.

NASA points out that the higher the altitude, the longer the orbital debris will typically remain in Earth orbit. Debris left in orbits below 600 km normally fall back to Earth within several years. At altitudes of 800 km, the time for orbital decay is measured in decades. Above 1,000 km, orbital debris will normally continue circling the Earth for a century or more.

The concern here is for what's called the "Kessler Syndrome." The more debris, the better the chances for collisions, and the more collisions, the more debris.

The U.S. Air Force tracks space debris swirling around the planet. Here on the Gulf Coast the 20th Space Control Squadron at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., uses the world's most powerful radar to track all that movement.

But according to Aviation Week, some of the world's biggest commercial satellite operators are sharing data to help prevent collisions. They've formed the Space Data Association to create computer tools that help space situational awareness. (Post)

I don't know whether another organization to track space debris is needed or not. But I can tell you that the Space Data Association has a pretty nifty video that shows the growth of space debris since 1957. Click here to take a look.

While we're talking about high flying things, much closer to the Earth Eglin Air Force Base's two F-35 pilots have slowly increased the number of sorties, called local area orientation flights, around the base in Northwest Florida since flight operations began March 6, according to Flightglobal.

The two pilots are flying the local sorties to gauge the readiness of the 33rd Fighter Wing's new F-35A, a conventional take-off and landing variant. Eglin will train pilots and maintainers from all branches of the services that will use the F-35, as well as pilots and maintainers from foreign purchasers. (Post)

The government projects that the total cost to develop, buy and operate the F-35 will be $1.45 trillion over 50-plus years, according to a Pentagon document obtained by Reuters. The estimate is up from about $1 trillion a year ago, and includes inflation, a third of the projected F-35 operating costs.

Military officials and industry executives point out that no other weapons program's costs have been calculated over such a long period. (Post)

If you follow the industry, you know the F-35 isn't the only aircraft that's been under scrutiny. The F-22 Raptor is still causing some pretty smart people to scratch their heads. The Air Force Scientific Advisory Board can't explain what caused blackouts and dizziness among pilots flying F-22s.

A separate investigation of the oxygen problem by Lockheed Martin is continuing. The F-22 is considered safe and continues to fly, with pilots using sensors, filters and other safety steps to mitigate potential problems.

In this region, Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla., is the home of the 325th Fighter Wing, whose primary mission is to provide air training for F-22 pilots, as well as maintenance personnel and air battle managers. (Post)

Advanced materials
A self-repairing plastic that turns red to show it's damaged could be important for the aerospace industry, as well as for other large structures. Self-healing plastic isn't a new concept, but researchers at the University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg, Miss., developed one that keeps repairing itself.

Professor Marek Urban presented the results of the research at the national meeting and exposition of the American Chemical Society in San Diego, Calif., during the past week. The research is partly funded by the Department of Defense. (Post)

Remote sensing
The Naval Oceanographic Office, based at Stennis Space Center, Miss., has been using airborne laser and imagery systems since early February for hydrographic surveys in the coastal waters of Belize. It's part of a long-term project to survey the western Caribbean Sea off the coasts of Belize, Honduras and Nicaragua.

The surveys are designed to improve safety of navigation by mapping the seafloor and locating shallow reefs and other obstructions in the approaches to Belize's major ports. The airborne laser system, called Compact Hydrographic Airborne Rapid Total Survey (CHARTS), uses light to map the bottom.

The CHARTS program is run by the Joint Airborne Lidar Bathymetry Technical Center of Expertise at Stennis International Airport in Kiln, Miss., right outside Stennis Space Center. (Post)

NVision, a Mississippi company that partnered with Stennis Space Center to create a disaster information system, is one of seven companies that were highlighted in the 2012 NASA Technology Day on Capitol Hill during the week.

NVision, at the Stennis Technology Park adjacent to SSC, teamed with NASA to create the Real-time Emergency Action Coordination Tool, which incorporates maps, reports, Internet-driven data and real-time sensor date into a geographical information system-based display to provide information during emergency and disaster situations. (Post)

-- Aircraft company LSI’s Pensacola, Fla., branch operation had a ribbon-cutting during the week for its newest expansion, according to the Pensacola News Journal. The company retrofits helicopters for the military to use as training platforms. LSI operates out of a 20,000 square foot building and is expanding into a recently completed 12,000 square foot adjacent building. The company has said it expects to add 20 workers over the next year to the 40 now working there. LSI is based in Jacksonville, Fla.

Airports in Northwest Florida had a higher passenger count in February after two months of decline. That's according to Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport Executive Director John Wheat. Pensacola International Airport has the largest market share at 40.7 percent, followed by Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport at West Bay with 20.8 percent, Tallahassee Regional Airport at 20.2 percent and Northwest Florida Regional Airport at Eglin Air Force Base with 18.3 percent, according to the Northwest Florida Daily News.

-- Bruce Simpson, executive director of the Air Armament Center at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., is retiring April 3 after a 31-year tenure, according to the Northwest Florida Daily News. As head of AAC, Simpson was the center acquisition chief in charge of buying and developing weapons systems and the top-ranking civilian on base. His retirement comes on the eve of a planned reorganization. The Air Force plans to merge the Air Armament Center and two other centers into the new Life Cycle Management Center at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. (Post)

Raytheon Co., Missile Systems, Tucson, Ariz., was awarded a $497 million contract to procure missiles, instrumentation units, test equipment, guidance sections, hardware, and contractor logistics support. AAC/EBAC, Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., is the contracting activity.

Sequestration: The Pentagon would expect hundreds of thousands of layoffs across the defense industry if lawmakers don't act to avert an additional $500 billion in defense budget cuts that could take effect in January 2013. The cuts would force the Pentagon to break many contracts, including the Navy's contracts with Lockheed Martin and Austal USA for littoral combat ships. (Post)

HII: Huntington Ingalls Industries during the week marked its first year of operations after its spinoff from Northrop Grumman. Huntington Ingalls has two sectors: a Newport News facility in Virginia and Ingalls Shipbuilding on the Gulf Coast, which oversees the Pascagoula, Miss., yard, a composite yard in Gulfport, Miss., and an Avondale, La., yard that will close next year. (Post)

Contracts: General Dynamics Information Technology, Herndon, Va., was awarded a $27 million contract for information technology engineering and mission sustainment services in support of the commander, Naval Meteorology and Oceanography Command, Stennis Space Center, Miss. Sixty percent of the work will be done at SSC. ... Ingalls Shipbuilding division was awarded a $76 million contract from the U.S. Coast Guard to purchase long-lead materials for a sixth National Security Cutter. Construction and delivery of the yet-to-be-named WMSL 755 will be performed at the company's Pascagoula facility.