Saturday, August 4, 2012

Week in review (7/29 to 8/4)

The past week was filled with stories of interest to the Gulf Coast aerospace corridor, including plans to create an indoor unmanned systems center in Shalimar, Fla.; the hint of 300 aerospace jobs in Pensacola; the extension of the partnership for the advanced manufacturing center in New Orleans; money for a fuel farm that will be leased by Rolls-Royce; an intriguing plan to use rocket engines that powered Saturn V for a new NASA rocket system; and the selection of a base to join Eglin to train F-35 aviators.

Here's the week in review:

Boeing, SpaceX and Sierra Nevada were awarded $1.1 billion in NASA contracts to develop the spacecraft that will be used to ferry crews two and from the International Space Station.

Boeing gets $460 million for its CST-100, which carries seven people and test-launches in 2016. SpaceX gets $440 million for its seven-astronaut Dragon capsule, which has already successfully completed a cargo mission to the ISS. Sierra Nevada will receive $212 million for its Dream Chaser, which looks a lot like the space shuttle.

The awards are part of NASA's Commercial Crew Development program, where NASA works with industry partners to develop commercial vehicles that will handle the low-Earth orbit chores. NASA is focusing on developing its deep-space program, which will take astronauts further into space than ever before.

It's developing the Orion crew vehicle, which is being built at Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans. The capsule will eventually be launched by NASA's medium-lift Space Launch System. The first stage will also be built in New Orleans. Stennis Space Center, Miss., which is already testing the Rocketdyne J-2X engines that will be used in the second stage, will also be testing the RS-25 engines that will power the first stage. (Post)

Since I mentioned above Michoud Assembly Facility, this is a good place to mention a key partnership that received a five-year extension during the week. NASA and Louisiana leaders committed to a five-year extension of the partnership in the National Center for Advanced Manufacturing in New Orleans.

NCAM supports aerospace manufacturing research, development and innovation for NASA. It was formed in 1999 and includes NASA, NASA's Michoud Assembly Facility, the state of Louisiana and the University of New Orleans.

This new agreement expands the partnership to include Louisiana State University, which has engineering and research capabilities that can assist NCAM in fulfilling the nation's aerospace technology needs. (Post)

I also previously mentioned NASA's Space Launch System. But don't get the impression this is the only launch vehicle envisioned by NASA. SLS is a medium-lift launch vehicle, designed for 70 metric tons. But NASA also wants a heavy-lift rocket capable of hauling 130 metric tons.

And the power system that could be used on such a vehicle? Dynetics Inc., of Huntsville, Ala., thinks the engines that powered the Saturn V might be just the thing. It had a sterling history, and the company thinks modified F-1s would be ideal for the new rocket. Dynetics, which is teamed with Rocketdyne, is negotiating with NASA.

For Stennis Space Center, Miss., it could mean a return to testing that hasn't been seen since the Apollo era. When the five-engine cluster of the Saturn rocket was test-fired for the first time in 1967, windows shattered in nearby communities from the 7.5 million pounds of thrust. (Post)

Unmanned systems
Okaloosa County economic development leaders hope to develop an indoor test site for small unmanned aerial and land systems. The Economic Development Council is working to develop the 45,000-square-foot Autonomous Vehicle Center.

The $4.5 million Autonomous Vehicle Center will be built on the University of Florida's Research and Engineering Education Facility in Shalimar, near Eglin Air Force Base. The vision is to have a diverse group use it, from high school students to private companies. (Post)

The indoor facility makes a lot of sense. The Gulf Coast region is already heavily involved in unmanned aerial systems. Wasp, Raven, Puma-AE and Shadow UAVs are already flying around at military sites at Stennis Space Center, Miss., Camp Shelby, Miss., and Choctaw Outlying Field in Northwest Florida. The Coast Guard in Mobile, Ala., has also worked on a UAV training course for that service.

We also build them in this region. Fire Scout unmanned helicopters and high-flying Global Hawks are built in part in Moss Point, Miss., by UAV powerhouse Northrop Grumman. This region is also involved in maritime robot systems. The Navy at Stennis Space Center, Miss., operates underwater systems worldwide, and the Navy in Panama City is involved in robotic systems for mine warfare.

On top of all that, the Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition in Pensacola, Fla., is heavily involved in developing robotic systems, including the exciting field artificial intelligence. So this type of development is welcome and makes a lot of sense.

-- One of the more fascinating UAVs being developed is the Navy's X-47B Unmanned Combat Air System demonstrator. The tailless, unmanned aircraft built by Northrop Grumman launched from Paxtuxent River, Md., and flew for 35 minutes, reaching an altitude of 7,500 feet and an air speed of 180 knots during the week.

One of the testing facilities at Pax River is a simulated aircraft carrier environment, which will allow team members to ensure the aircraft is ready to operate in testing at sea. Land-based testing will establish X-47B has the ability to conduct precision approaches and to perform arrested landings and catapult launches prior to actual aircraft carrier operations. (Post)

The development of the X-47B is of high interest to the Gulf Coast region because this is where aviation training begins for so many aviators who may one day become very familiar with robotic aircraft. And who knows, we may one day be doing a portion of the work on the X-47B in this region. The Northrop Grumman facility in Moss Point certainly has the capacity.

Luke Air Force Base in Glendale, Ariz., was chosen as an F-35 pilot training center, beating out Tucson, Ariz., New Mexico and Idaho. The base west of Phoenix will be joining Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., as the place where U.S. and allied aviators will be training on the latest and most expensive aircraft in the inventory. Glendale officials said the base will get 72 F-35s. Air Force officials said in a statement that Luke was chosen because of facility and ramp capacity, range access, weather, as well as capacity for future growth. (Post)

Jetliner engines
In Mississippi, a $300,000 grant and $740,000 loan from the U.S. Department of Agriculture will be used by the Hancock County Development Commission to buy an industrial site and build a fuel farm for a jet engine test facility, which Rolls Royce will lease at NASA's Stennis Space Center.

The USDA program is designed to support job creation and strengthen economic growth in rural counties. Projects in 12 states are receiving money through Rural Economic Development Loan and Grant program, which provides zero-interest loans to local utilities which, in turn, provide funds to local businesses for projects to create and retain employment in rural areas. (Post)

-- Rolls-Royce and GE engines used in Boeing's 787 have caused some issues for the new aircraft. Last weekend debris shot from the back of a GEnx engine during a ground test at the Charleston (S.C.) airport. In an earlier incident, All Nippon Airways temporary grounded five 787s due to gearbox corrosion in the Rolls Royce Trent 1000 engines.

Rolls-Royce engines are tested at an outdoor facility at Stennis Space Center, Miss., and composite fan platforms and cases for the GEnx are made by GE Aviation in Batesville, Miss. (Post)

Reuters reported during the week that Pensacola's mayor expects to announce a deal soon with an aerospace company to bring more than 300 jobs to Northwest Florida. The mayor declined to name the company, but said it involves an expansion of the company now operating in Mobile, Ala.

The Mobile Press-Register reported in June that officials from Pensacola went to Mobile to talk to ST Aerospace about a possible move of all or part of the 1,000-worker operation to Pensacola. (Post)

Meanwhile, plans to lease 104 acres of Saufley Field in Pensacola to a private developer stalled because of the cost of moving several Saufley commands to Naval Air Station Pensacola. Saufley is used for Navy education and training support programs, and its two runways are used for flight training. The private developer envisions a research/commercial park at Saufley. (Post)

L-3 Communications Vertex Aerospace LLC, Madison, Miss., was awarded a
$9.9 million contract for the Aircraft Intermediate Maintenance Department support for Chief of Naval Air Training aircraft, transient aircraft, and other services activities at the Naval Air Station Pensacola, Fla., and NAS Corpus Christi, Texas. (Post)

Workshop: The Marine Technology Society's TechSurge Oceans in Action Workshop is
scheduled for Aug. 13 and 14 at the IP Casino Resort in Biloxi, Miss. The focus will be on technologies that have been developed or are being developed in the wake of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. (Post)

Command change: Rear Adm. Brian Brown is the new leader of the Naval Meteorology and Oceanography Command at NASA's Stennis Space Center, Miss. He relieved Rear Adm. Jonathan White in a change of command ceremony during the week (Post)

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