Saturday, April 7, 2012

Week in review (4/1 to 4/7)

A commercial spaceport somewhere in the state of Alabama? That state is a big player in the space industry, thanks to Huntsville, home of NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center and the Army's missile activities.

According to reports during the week, Alabama lawmakers are looking at creating a spaceport authority to look at the possibility of seeking FAA approval to set up a spaceport. Nobody has said where it might go, but there are some strict requirements.

The launch site has to have access to useful orbits, and public safety is a big consideration. That means the spaceport would have to be far from major cities in case of a catastrophic failure. Most launch sites are built close to bodies of water to ensure that should a failure occur, no components fall over populated areas.

The Federal Aviation Administration so far has licensed eight non-federal launch sites in California, Florida, Virginia, Alaska, New Mexico and Oklahoma. California Spaceport received the first FAA approval in 1996, and the first one licensed that's not co-located with a government launch site is the Kodiak Launch Complex in Alaska.

This isn't the first time Alabama has thought about this. There was "Spaceport Alabama" with a program office at Jacksonville State University. But according to the FAA, no legislative activity took place and the Alabama Commission on Aerospace appears inactive. In fact, the FAA lists eight proposed spaceports that have made little or no progress.

Spaceports are designed to launch orbital or suborbital vehicles into space, and often provide the ability to integrate launch vehicle components and payloads, according to the FAA. Launches are vertical, but Cecil Field Spaceport near Jacksonville, Fla.,, Mojave Air and Space Port in California and Oklahoma Spaceport and Spaceport America also have runways.

It makes sense for Alabama to pursue this, even thought it could be years away. Commercial space flights are a reality, and the field will grow. For Alabama, the coast certainly represents one option. There have been rocket launches from Eglin Air Force Base. Cape San Blas in Northwest Florida's Gulf County was mentioned back in the late '80s as a possible site for a Florida spaceport. According to the fiscal year 2011 base structure report, the Air Force’s Cape San Blas Missile Tracking Annex D-3 is some 679 acres.

This may be an opportunity for the states with a piece of the Gulf Coast Interstate 10 region to look at working together to see if they can come up with a site that they could all back. We have portions of the new Space Launch System being built at Michoud Assembly in New Orleans, rocket engine testing at Stennis Space Center, Miss., the tracking of space objects at Eglin Air Force Base. Maybe it's time for a launch pad.

-- While on the subject of space, there were some important NASA appointments formally announced during the past week. Arthur E. "Gene" Goldman is now the acting director of the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. He had been serving as deputy director, and before that he was director of Stennis Space Center, Miss.

In addition, Robert Champion was appointed deputy director of Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans, where he was acting deputy director and chief operations officer from 2010 until this latest appointment. Prior to that announcement, NASA said that Chris M. Crumbly was appointed director of Michoud, where he had been deputy director from March 2011. (Post)

Unmanned systems
Navy Fire Scout unmanned helicopters will be getting smarter when it comes to tracking down modern-day pirates. That's because of an Office of Naval Research-funded project that will help the robots helicopters autonomously distinguish pirate boats from other vessels.

The Navy plans to upgrade Fire Scouts with the Multi-Mode Sensor Seeker, a mix of cameras, infrared sensors and LIDAR that will provide 3-D laser images. The MMSS is designed to reduce the workload of sailors operating Fire Scouts from control stations aboard Navy ships. Testing begins this summer off the coast of California.

Fire Scouts are built in Moss Point, Miss., by Northrop Grumman, and they'll eventually be used on board the Navy's Littoral Combat Ships, a version of which is being built in Mobile, Ala., by Austal USA. (Post)

-- Northrop Grumman's Unmanned Systems Center in Moss Point, Miss., is among eight sites in the company’s Aerospace Systems sector to earn International Organization for Standardization (ISO) 14001 registration. It also received the Occupational Health and Safety Assessment Series (OHSAS) 18001 certification for managing employees' health and safety in the workplace. (Post)

A Navy squadron disestablished in 2005 is being re-established. Strike Fighter Squadron 101 (VFA-101) will have a stand-up ceremony at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., next month. The original Fighter Squadron 101 was established in 1952 and flew various aircraft, including the F-4 Phantom and F-14 Tomcat.

VFA-101, which will serve as the Fleet Replacement Squadron, will training pilots and maintainers for the fleet. It's part of the 33rd Fighter Wing, a joint-service wing responsible for F-35 A/B/C pilot and maintenance training. Eglin will eventually have 59 of the F-35s and three flying squadrons, one for each service's aircraft variant. The F-35 Academic Training Center serves as the schoolhouse, where the wing will train more than 2,000 maintenance students and 100 pilots each year. (Post)

-- The first F-35 for The Netherlands rolled out of the F-35 production facility earlier this month in Fort Worth, Texas. It will eventual be assignment to Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., home of the F-35 training center. The Netherlands will use the conventional takeoff and landing jet, known as AN-1, for training and operational tests for pilots and maintainers. AN-1 will undergo functional fuel system checks before being transported to the flight line for ground and flight tests in the coming weeks. (Post)

-- Northrop Grumman's first F-35 center fuselage produced by its auto-industry inspired Integrated Assembly Line in Palmdale, Calif., was delivered to Lockheed Martin last month. The company has delivered 69 center fuselages since 2005, but this is the first from the IAL.

The IAL was developed and designed with the help of the Detroit-based KUKA Robotics Aerospace Division, a commercial automation integrator. Northrop Grumman is a member of the Lockheed Martin-led F-35 industry team. (Post)

EADS North America unveiled its Armed Aerial Scout 72X+ (AAS-72X+) at the annual Army Aviation Association of America convention in Nashville, Tenn. The armed derivative of the Army’s UH-72A Lakota Light Utility Helicopter will be built by the company's American Eurocopter business unit in Columbus, Miss. EADS is one of several competitors for the program to replace the OH-58 Kiowa Warriors. (Post)

Continental Motors has been accused of making a defective engine that caused a 2010 plane crash that killed a jogger on the beach in Hilton Head, S.C. Attorneys for the Mobile, Ala.-based manufacturer, know as Teledyne Continental Motors before its sale to China’s AVIC last year, say the engine had nothing to do with the accident, according to the Mobile Press-Register. (Post)

The BRAC process would look like the 2005 round under the legislative proposal the Defense Department sent to Congress for base closure rounds in 2013 and 2015. The process for appointing commissioners, milestones and reports DOD must meet and more are essentially unchanged from the last round, based on a preliminary analysis of DoD’s 36-page proposal. Lawmakers have made it clear that they have no appetite to authorize a BRAC round in 2013, according to Defense Communities 360. (Post)

Okaloosa County airport officials hope to secure $12 million in federal stimulus money to build a road that would connect Bob Sikes Airport in Crestview, Fla., to U.S. Highway 90. The money is part of $500 million that will be made available through the U.S. Department of Transportation's Transportation Investments Generating Economic Recovery program, according to the Northwest Florida Daily News. (Post)

ALFAB Inc., Enterprise, Ala., was awarded a not-to-exceed $150 million contract for the procurement of AM-2 matting packages: F-71, F-72, F-73, and F-78 for the expeditionary airfield. AM-2 matting is designed to interlock in a brickwork type pattern and provides for the construction of portable runways and taxiways for aircraft launch and recovery. Work will be performed in Enterprise, Ala., and is expected to be completed in April 2017. … Northrop Grumman Systems Corp., Aerospace Systems, Melbourne, Fla., was awarded a $27 million modification to previously awarded contract for the procurement of the AN/AES-1 Airborne Laser Mine Detection System low rate initial production. The Naval Surface Warfare Center Panama City Division, Panama City, Fla., is the contracting activity.

Materials: An Office of Naval Research-funded project is producing a full-size ship hull section made with marine grade titanium using a welding innovation that could help bring titanium into future ship construction. Researchers at the University of New Orleans School of Naval Architecture and Textron Marine and Land Systems are demonstrating the project, and expect to have a complete hull this summer. The work is being done at the National Center for Advanced Manufacturing in New Orleans, which is a partnership between UNO, NASA and Louisiana. (Post)

Contract: Huntington Ingalls Industries Inc., Pascagoula, Miss., was awarded a $50 million modification to previously awarded contract for procurement of additional long lead time material in support of the LHA replacement, Flight 0, amphibious assault ship, LHA 7. Work will be performed in Pascagoula, Miss., and is expected to complete by May 2013.