Saturday, June 23, 2012

Week in review (6/17 to 6/23)

The groundbreaking for a new Rolls-Royce jet engine test stand, a milestone for the Space Launch System, finishing welds on the first space-bound Orion crew vehicle, the dismissal of a commander in the wake of a CV-22 crash, and Air Force moves impacting Eglin were among stories of interest to the Gulf Coast aerospace corridor during the week.

But first, here’s an item I feel certain escaped your attention.

Does the Gulf Coast have what it takes to become the next Austin, the high-tech hotspot and capital city of Texas? Yes, according to the thinking of some folks who attended the Gulf Coast Patent Association summer meeting Friday at Pensacola Beach, Fla.

The two-year-old regional group’s summer meeting was held for the first time in Florida to explore "the economic development wheel." It focused on innovation and getting new ideas and services to the marketplace.

The meeting attracted about 30 participants from Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida, including patent attorneys, technology transfer professionals, angel investors and others. While the meeting provided a lot of details on technology transfer, patents, trademarks, trade secrets and more, the strongest message that came through was that the Gulf Coast region has a lot of the pieces that could make it boom, including universities, relatively inexpensive land, research and development and more.

At least two speakers pointed out that Austin, once somewhat sleepy, changed over the years to become a booming technology center. While Austin wasn't exactly a technology backwater in the 1980s, neither was it a high-tech mecca.

But Austin had a lot going for it, including a university, relatively cheap land, and the trees and hills that most of Texas lacks. The big change for Austin came in 1983 when the Microelectronics and Computer Technology Corp., a consortium of 12 companies, picked the city for a research center.

Austin was picked over nearly 60 cities that vied for MCC, according to a 2004 article in the Austin Business Journal. Although MCC dissolved in 2004, its impact was dramatic. MCC spun off about a dozen businesses and put Austin on the high-tech radar. Some call it "Silicon Hills."

At least one patent attorney and a deal-maker, both with experience in Austin, think the same thing can happen in this region. The Gulf Coast has R&D activities in a host of fields, including aerospace, marine science, advanced materials and more, and it's hard to match the beaches and recreational opportunities in this region.

The non-profit Gulf Coast Patent Association was launched at Stennis Space Center, Miss., and now includes members from across the region. Its mission is to foster the creation of an environment that promotes economic development through technological innovation. It hopes to enable match-making opportunities among businesses, technology providers and IP practitioners along the Gulf Coast.

Previous meetings were held in New Orleans, Stennis Space Center and Mobile. But what's striking is, despite the creative mission of this group and the stated goal of job creation, these meetings have flown pretty much under the radar of local news organizations. Why I'm not sure.

Efforts like this may not have immediate rewards, but this group is building a foundation for the future. The broader public, inundated with bad news about the economy, should know efforts like this are under way and offer some hope for the future.

Propulsion systems
Rolls-Royce broke ground on a new $50 million jet engine test facility at the companyls outdoor testing site at NASA's John C. Stennis Space Center in South Mississippi during the week.

The test facility will be used to conduct research, development, crosswind, thrust reverse, cyclic and endurance tests on all Rolls-Royce civil aerospace engines. It will provide high-tech jobs for about 35 people.

The Rolls-Royce Outdoor Jet Engine Testing Facility at SSC opened in October 2007 and is the exclusive outdoor test site for Rolls-Royce. It's one of only three of its kind in the world. (Post)

The decision to open a second facility at SSC is a strong indication of Rolls-Royce’s commitment to this region. In addition to the test stands, Rolls-Royce Naval Marine has a foundry in Pascagoula, Miss., that makes huge propellers for ships, primarily U.S. Navy.

By the way, Rolls-Royce isn't the only airline engine maker that's come into the South Mississippi region. GE Aviation is building a plant near Hattiesburg, Miss., to build parts for GE Aviation engines.

The 200-foot tall core stage of the Space Launch System passed a major technical review during the week. Engineers from NASA and Boeing of Huntsville presented a full set of system requirements, design concepts and production approaches to technical reviewers and the independent review board.

The core stage is being designed and developed at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., and it will be built at the agency's Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans. (Post)

Michoud Assembly Facility is also where the Saturn V was built, and where the external tanks were built for the Space Shuttle. It's also been busy building the Orion crew vehicle.

While on that subject, the Orion team in New Orleans during the week was putting the finishing weld on the first space-bound capsule. Orion's next will move to Florida's Kennedy Space Center, where it will undergo final assembly and checkout. Media representatives have been invited to attend the event marking the arrival of Orion on July 2 at Kennedy's Operations and Checkout Building.

NASA's unmanned Exploration Flight Test-1 is scheduled for 2014. The Orion will be launched atop a United Launch Alliance Delta IV rocket. The mission will take Orion to an altitude of more than 3,600 miles, more than 15 times farther away from Earth than the International Space Station. (Post)

As you likely know, Michoud is not the only place in this region involved in the SLS. Stennis Space Center, Miss., tests the engines that will be used to power the heavy-lift rocket that will be used in future Orion missions.

-- It's no longer government-run space programs that will be sending supplies and people into space. With that in mind, the Federal Aviation Administration and NASA signed an agreement to coordinate standards for commercial space travel of government and non-government astronauts to and from low-Earth orbit and the International Space Station. The agencies will collaborate to provide a framework for the U.S. space industry, avoid conflicting requirements and multiple sets of standards, and advance both public and crew safety. (Post)

The commander of the Osprey squadron that lost one of its aircraft in a crash last week in Florida has been dismissed. Lt. Col. Matt Glover headed Hurlburt Field’s 8th Special Operations Squadron since May 2011.

The dismissal comes in the wake the Osprey crash June 13 on Eglin Air Force Base’s reservation that injured five airmen and destroyed the CV-22 tiltrotor aircraft. (Post) A Hurlburt Field airman was released from the hospital during the week and two others remain hospitalized for injuries received in the crash north of Navarre, Fla. (Post)

The House and Senate Armed Services committees have produced spending bills that deny Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta's request to set up a Base Realignment and Closure Commission next year. Panetta has said he needs to close bases and small installations to help him achieve $487 billion in congressionally mandated spending cuts over 10 years. (Post)

-- The reduction of the Air Force Materiel Command from 12 to five centers is moving forward. Centers will be activated in Ohio and Oklahoma in the coming weeks, and the Air Force Test Center will be established at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif. Changes are scheduled to come to Eglin Air Force Base next month. (Post)

Lockheed Martin was awarded a $20.1 million advance acquisition contract to provide long lead-time parts, material and components required for the delivery of two low rate initial production Lot VII F-35 conventional takeoff and landing aircraft for Norway. Work will be done in Texas, California, the United Kingdom, Florida, New Hampshire and Maryland. Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., is home of the F-35 training center. (Post)

The 33d Fighter Wing community is hosting the annual Khobar Towers Memorial Ceremony Monday at the Nomad Memorial. Members of the tri-service F-35 Joint Strike Fighter team will honor the 12 Nomads and seven other airmen killed in the Khobar Towers terrorist bombing in Saudi Arabia on June 25, 1996. (Post)

Vision Technologies Aerospace Inc. received approval from U.S. Bankruptcy Court to acquire the Tampa aerospace maintenance facility and certain assets of Pemco World Air Services Inc. It will be held under a newly incorporated entity owned by VT Aerospace, which operates ST Aerospace Mobile. (Post)

Alfab Inc., Enterprise, Ala., was awarded a contract with a maximum $96.5 million for pallets and matting. Using services are Air Force and Army. The date of performance completion is June 19, 2017. … Raytheon Technical Services Co., Indianapolis, Ind., was awarded $40.3 million under a previously issued basic ordering agreement for the repair of 35 weapons repairable assemblies and shop replaceable assemblies of the APG 65/73 Radar System used in support of the F/A-18 aircraft. Some of the work will be done in Forest, Miss.

Tax break: The city of Pascagoula, Miss., passed a resolution waiving property tax for nine years on $18.8 million worth of machinery, equipment and furniture at  Ingalls Shipbuilding. (Post)

Award: Austal USA of Mobile, Ala., was the winner in the large manufacturing category of the 2012 Manufacturer of the Year Awards at a luncheon in Montgomery, Ala. The awards was presented by the Business Council of Alabama and the Alabama Technology Network. (Post)

Contract:Lockheed Martin Mission Systems and Sensors, Moorestown, N.J., was awarded an $11.8 million modification to previously awarded contract for DDG 51 class and CG 47 class Aegis Combat System installation, integration and test, and fleet life cycle engineering support. Twenty-two percent of the work will be done in Pascagoula, Miss. (Post)