Saturday, July 28, 2012

Week in review (7/22 to 7/28)

The sale of Rocketdyne, completion of United Technologies' acquisition of Goodrich, a milestone for NASA's Space Launch System, the first international F-35 arrival at Eglin, the lifting of F-22 restrictions, and a report warning that Eglin is at risk of closing were among the stories during the week of interest to the Gulf Coast aerospace corridor.

Here's the week in review:

Corporate changes
United Technologies reached an agreement to sell Rocketdyne to aerospace manufacturer GenCorp Inc. for $550 million. Rocketdyne, the world's largest maker of liquid-fueled rocket propulsion systems, will nearly double GenCorp's size.

For Stennis Space Center, Miss., Rocketdyne becoming a part of GenCorp is an interesting convergence of two companies with activities at SSC. GenCorp owns Aerojet, which produces solid-fuel rocket motors and liquid propellant rocket engines, and tests its AJ-26 at SSC. Those engines will power the first stage of Orbital Science's Antares rockets, one of the commercial rocket systems slated to bring cargo to the International Space Station.

Rocketdyne has had an operation at SSC since 2000, when it was still part of Boeing. It assembles and tests rocket engines, including the RS-68 used by United Launch Alliance, as well as the RS-25, better known as the space shuttle main engines. Those engines are being repurposed to power the first stage of NASA's Space Launch System. (Post)

Rocketdyne was sold to help fund UT's $18.4 billion takeover of Goodrich Corp. of Charlotte, N.C., which was completed during the week. Goodrich is being combined with UT's Hamilton Sundstrand to create the new UTC Aerospace Systems business unit, headquartered in Charlotte. Goodrich operates an aerospace center in Foley, Ala. (Post)

NASA's Space Launch System passed a major NASA review during the week with completion of a combined System Requirements Review and System Definition Review. SLS now moves ahead to its preliminary design phase.

The SLS will launch NASA's Orion spacecraft and other payloads, and provide a new capability for human exploration beyond low Earth orbit. The Rocketdyne RS-25 core stage and J-2X upper-stage rocket engines will be tested at Stennis Space Center, Miss.

The Boeing Co. in Huntsville, Ala., is designing the SLS core stage, which will be built at NASA's Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans and tested at SSC before being shipped to Kennedy Space Center, Fla. (Post)

-- Speaking of the J-2X, that engine's powerpack was test fired during the week for 1,350 seconds on the A-1 test stand, surpassing the 1,150-second firing of June 8. The powerpack sits atop the J-2X engine and feeds the thrust chamber, which produces the engine fire and thrust.

The advantage of testing the powerpack without the thrust chamber is to operate over a wide range of conditions to understand safe limits. The test gathered data on performance of the liquid oxygen and fuel pumps during extreme conditions. (Post)

-- NASA engineers at SSC recently conducted tests on a liquid methane, liquid oxygen engine used to power the Project Morpheus lander. The tests was over several days at SSC’s E-3 Test Stand.

Morpheus could carry a variety of payloads, including robots, small rovers and labs, to the moon or other celestial bodies. The NASA-designed and built Morpheus is one of 20 small projects comprising NASA's Advanced Exploration Systems Program. (Post)

-- While we’re on the topic of advanced systems, some fascinating work is going on in Huntsville, Ala., that could revolutionize space travel. Scientists from the University of Alabama in Huntsville, NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center and Boeing are doing research on a thermonuclear propulsion system.

They are assembling at the Aerophysics Research Center at Redstone Arsenal a huge piece of machinery that in a past life tested nuclear weapons effects. Now called "Charger-1 Pulsed Power Generator," it will be one of the largest and most powerful pulse power systems in the academic world.

As envisioned, multiple launch vehicles would put the required components into orbit, where the spacecraft would be assembled and a pulsed fusion engine would launch the spacecraft from high Earth orbit. Nuclear fusion propulsion, an idea that’s been around for a long time, would cut fuel needed to a few tons instead of thousands of tons. (Post)

On the surface it doesn't seem like Aeromexico's decision to buy up to 100 planes from Boeing worth $11 billion is something of interest to the Gulf Coast, but as with many activities in aerospace, there's are local ties.

Mexico's global airlines placed a provisional order for 90 Boeing 737 MAX jets and 10 Boeing 787s. That’s interesting to Mobile, Ala., simply because the 737 is the direct competitor of the A320 that will eventually be assembled at Brookley Aeroplex.

Each 787 will use two GEnx engines, built by GE Aviation. Composite fan platforms and cases for the GEnx are made by GE Aviation in Batesville, Miss., and turbine ignitions components, sensors and harnesses for the GEnx are made in Jacksonville, Fla.

GE Aviation also is building engine parts facilities near Hattiesburg, Miss., and Auburn, Ala. One more interesting Gulf Coast spin: GE Aviation competes with Rolls-Royce to power the 787, and Rolls-Royce airliner engines are tested at its outdoor facility at Stennis Space Center, Miss. (Post)

Airbus ripples
In Alabama, things are moving ahead in Baldwin County to create an aviation training center for public high school students at Fairhope airport. The $2 million facility will be located at the Sonny Callahan Airport. It will provide technical training to prepare students for jobs in the aviation industry, such as those expected to be produced when Airbus begins building A320 aircraft at Mobile’s Brookley Aeroplex. Training will begin in August 2013. (Post)

-- Supporters of St. Elmo Airport hope to market the 738-acre general aviation airport as a job creator for the south-Mobile County community. The airport, 18 miles from Brookley Aeroplex, is state-owned and has 20 hangars and a 4,000-foot landing strip. The state has been positioning the airport take advantage of opportunities such as Airbus' decision to locate its first U.S. assembly plant at Brookley. (Post)

The first international F-35 arrived at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., during the week and it's now with the Marine Strike Fighter Training Squadron 501. ZM135, an F-35B, combines short take off and vertical landing technology with supersonic speed and stealth. The F-35B pairs a Pratt and Whitney F135 engine and the Rolls-Royce LiftSystem. The UK was the first of eight international partners to join the F-35 program and plans to acquire the F-35B short takeoff and vertical landing aircraft. (Post)

-- The Air National Guard recently took its first turn at the controls of an F-35. Maj. Jay Spohn, the chief of standards and evaluation at the 33rd Operations Group, flew on July 16. He’s one of two Guard pilots and two Reserve pilots in training with the 33rd Wing at Eglin. (Post)

The Air Force has identified the cause of hypoxia-like symptoms a dozen F-22 pilots suffered, and flight restrictions gradually will be lifted. The Air Force made two changes: The first was to order pilots not to wear the pressure garment vest during high-altitude missions. The vest inflates to stop blood from pooling, which would cause pilots to black out during high-speed turns. The Air Force found that a faulty valve caused the vest to inflate and remain inflated under conditions where it was not designed to inflate. A canister filter was also removed from the oxygen delivery system, increasing the volume of air flowing to pilots. F-22 pilots are trained at Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla. (Post)

Air Force weapons experts will brief industry Oct. 4, 2012 on the progress and future needs of a program to develop a rocket-propelled bomb for the F-35 that can attack and destroy enemy bunkers, tunnel complexes, and other buried targets.

The briefings will concern progress on the Air Force High Velocity Penetrating Weapon Flagship Capability Concept (HVPW FCC) program. The program seeks to develop technologies for a future hard-target munition in preparation for a 2014 weapon demonstration. The goal is to build a 2,000-pound weapon with solid-rocket propulsion with the power of a 5,000-pound gravity bomb. (Post)

Is Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., at risk of being closed in any new round of base closings? That's what a recent Kiplinger Report says. The report, which cited unnamed sources on Capitol Hill and others, lists Eglin along with eight other bases. The article said Eglin’s work could be transferred to bases in the Northwest.

But it shouldn't be taken seriously, according to Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla. He points out that Congress has no appetite for another base closing round. David Goestch, chairman of the Florida Defense Support Task Force, also disagreed with the assessment of the risk to Eglin, which received additional missions from the last base closing round. He thinks folks from California who want Eglin's missions planted the idea with Kiplinger. (Post)

Army Fleet Support, Fort Rucker, Ala., was awarded a $2 billion contract to provide aviation maintenance services. Work will be done in Fort Rucker, with an estimated completion date of Sept. 30, 2017.

Contract: Huntington Ingalls Inc., Pascagoula, Miss., was awarded a $1.5 billion modification to previously awarded contract for the procurement of the detail design and construction of LPD 27. (Post)

NOAA ship: A research vessel that was expected to have a service lifespan of 20 to 25 years when it was launched in 1967 is going on its 300th research cruise and has now chalked up 45 years of service. (Post)

Workers: The first of 10 barges was christened and launched during the week at TY
Offshore in Gulfport, Miss., and company officials said they need more workers to keep pace. (Post)

Commissioning: The Navy this weekend was scheduled to christen the newest amphibious transport dock ship, Somerset, during a ceremony at the Huntington Ingalls Industries shipyard in Avondale, La. (Post)

Award: Two teams of engineers from the Naval Surface Warfare Center Panama City (Fla.) Division were among 19 commands and installations to receive the 2012 Department of the Navy Safety Excellence Award. (Post)

Innovators: The Office of Naval Research opened online registration for its biennial Naval Science and Technology Partnership Conference Oct. 22-24 at the Hyatt Regency Crystal City in Arlington. (Post)