Saturday, September 15, 2012

Week in review (9/9 to 9/15)

There's a fascinating project underway right now teaming scientists from two extremes: those involved in space and those involved in oceans. It may one day lead to daily, weather-like water reports, via an app. Users will run the gamut, from those interested in beach conditions to commercial fishing ventures.

The Pensacola News Journal’s Kimberly Blair wrote about the Environmental Protection Agency's "Pathfinder" project, involving a team of scientists at the EPA's Gulf Ecology Division at Pensacola Beach, Fla.

They're working one the project with other scientists, including experts from the Naval Research Laboratory at Stennis Space Center, Miss. Pathfinder uses remote sensing technology aboard the International Space Station, the Hyperspectral Imager for the Coastal Ocean (HICO), to check water quality data from bays and beaches in Northwest Florida. If all goes well, the sensing technology will make its way to a satellite and an app will eventually be developed.

But the key is determining the accuracy of the data being captured. That's being done through using underwater vehicles operated from Stennis Space Center, as well as data from gadgets moored in local bays and other underwater technologies that sample for water temperature, salinity, chlorophyll, turbidity and water clarity.

EPA research biologist Jim Hagy said people really perk up when he mentions the marine scientists are working with the International Space Station. "It really grabs people's attention – making them realize we are doing some cool science right here in Pensacola," he told Blair.

Indeed, Mr. Hagy. We're doing some cool science all across the region, from Stennis Space Center to Panama City and multiple places in between. It's the best kept secret around.

To read Blair's detailed story, click here.

OK, now for your aerospace week in review:

Anyone who follows the aerospace and defense industry is paying close attention to the possibility of BAE Systems and EADS joining together to form a massive aerospace and defense company. BAE would own 40 percent and EADS the remainder of a company that would have a market value of some $50 billion, according to reports. (Post)

What's causing all this are the ups and downs of the aerospace and defense industries. Right now it's the military side that's taking a pounding, and the civilian side that's on the upswing. Boeing's chief executive said his company doesn't feel threatened. He told Reuters the proposed merger reflected the start of global consolidation in the defense industry and was likely aimed at giving EADS greater access to the U.S. defense market.

His company, if any, would understand the logic behind the move. It was in the 90s that Boeing and McDonnell Douglas got together for similar reasons. At that time, it was the commercial airliner sector that was hurting, and McDonnell's defense activities provided a reliable revenue flow.

Northrop Grumman is also well aware of the value of acquisitions. It went on a buying spree in the 90s and expanded its product line, even getting into shipbuilding. It wasn't until recent years that Northrop Grumman backed off on that sector. As Northrop's action shows, it's ongoing balancing act. There are positives about expanding the product line, but there are also positives with focusing on core businesses. The winners are the ones who strike the right balance.

Other companies right now are changing their portfolio mix, trying to strike that balance. United Technologies opted to dump its rocket-making business in favor of grabbing Goodrich and its aerospace parts business. (Previous) But that was fine for GenCorp., which liked that Rocketdyne will do for its portfolio. (Previous)

All this movement will have an impact on the Gulf Coast because all of these giants are players here. BAE Systems has operations in Fort Walton Beach, Fla., Mobile, Ala., and Gautier, Miss. And EADS has operation in Mobile, where it will eventually have even more with the Airbus plant. And while it's a bit outside this region, EADS also has its American Eurocopter plant in Columbus, Miss.

We'll be keeping an eye on all this.

As mentioned above, the airliner sector is in a growth mode. That's good for the industry, but Airbus alone faces a backlog of 4,400 aircraft and may be limited in ramping up production because of the supply chain. That’s according to the company’s chief operating officer. Airbus produces 42 single-aisle planes every month. It would like to push that to 44 a month, but it’s worried about overstretching the supply chain. (Post)

Building an assembly line in Mobile, Ala., will help, but that won't be a factor for several more years. That assembly line will add four more A320s to the mix every month.

-- The international business community is now associating Airbus with Mobile. That's according to Troy Wayman of the Mobile Chamber of Commerce, who spoke to the Mobile Press-Register by phone during the week from the ILA Berlin Air Show in Germany.

Wayman was among the Mobile folks who went to Germany to meet with potential Airbus suppliers and other prospects. Officials from Mobile neighbor Pensacola, Fla., were also in Germany trying to drum up business. (Post)

-- More than 300 acres near the planned $600 million Airbus assembly line is being put on the market. Local contractor Jerry Lathan has partnered with the National Auction Group for the sale. Airbus will take up some 116 acres at the Brookley Aeroplex to assemble the A320. (Post)

OK, while on the subject of the A320, low-cost carrier AirAsia of Malaysia will be the first operator of the A320 to use the model with "sharklets" on the wingtips. The announcement was made at the Berlin air show.

AirAsia will take delivery of the first A320 equipped with the fuel-saving wing-tip devices at the end of this year. Sharklets will be fitted on previously ordered, newly-built A320s for AirAsia, scheduled for delivery from the end of 2012. The tips will result in close to 4 percent fuel savings for the most popular Airbus aircraft. (Post)

Depending on where you live, look up Monday and you may see the Boeing 747 with the space shuttle Endeavour riding on the top. During the week aircraft and spacecraft were fitted together in preparation for the trip to Los Angeles.

The pair will be flying low over Stennis Space Center, Miss., Monday morning. SSC is where all the engines were tested. Then it will head to Michoud Assembly Facility, New Orleans, which supplied all the external tanks for the launch vehicle. (Post)

At the same time we're talking about the end of one era, there's been progress on developments in the new era. NASA's Space Launch System, designed to bring astronauts further into space than ever before, has marked its first year of progress.

The heavy-lift program was announced Sept. 14, 2011. It borrowed pieces from the canceled Constellation program and other proven NASA systems. Along the Gulf Coast, both SSC and Michoud are involved.

SSC has run a series of tests on the J-2X that will power the upper stage, and will also test the RS-25s that will power the first stage. Michoud has been building Orion crew vehicles, and will also build the core stage for the SLS. (Post)

-- Lockheed Martin Mississippi Space and Technology Center during the week marked its 10th anniversary at Stennis Space Center. Site director Dave Hartley said the center has delivered four satellite propulsion systems this year and has six more in production. The propulsion systems are for the A2100 satellites and maneuver the craft in space.

Dennis Little, vice president at Lockheed Martin headquarters in Bethesda, Md., said future projects include propulsion systems for the next generation of GPS and weather satellites and the Orion crew vehicle. (Post)

If you're interested in a more detailed look at the work done at the Mississippi Space and Technology Center, I wrote about it in 2009. It's in the July 2009 issue of Alliance Insight, a science and technology newsletter. Click here and look at pages 4 and 5. You'll be surprised just how many satellites the center is involved in.

There won't be a 104-acre research/business park at Pensacola's Saufley Field, a former air station and the current site of an outlying field and multiple naval education-related operations -- at least not for now in an age where money is a real issue for the military.

The Navy ended talks with DCK Worldwide over the enhanced use lease because it's too expensive to move three commands to Naval Air Station Pensacola, some 10 miles away. It would have required renovations at NAS Pensacola.

Saufley Field opened back in 1940 and during the Vietnam War it was a full-fledged air station. In 1976 it became an outlying landing field for naval aviators operating out of other bases in the region. (Post)

Meanwhile, the number of empty buildings in the Commerce and Technology Park in Fort Walton Beach, Fla., concerns some city officials. Councilman Dennis Reeves said he was driving through the industrial park recently and was surprised.

But Kay Rasmussen of the Okaloosa County Economic Development Council said the EDC is aware and continually marketing the park. One councilman wondered why an indoor unmanned systems test center wasn't being placed in an empty building at the park. But Rasmussen pointed out that none of the buildings meets the needs of the UAV center. (Post)

-- Hundreds of jobs, however, are headed to Washington County north of Mobile, Ala. Huntsman Advanced Materials says it needs to expand in McIntosh, creating 225 jobs on top of the 200 already there. The plant produces resin used in aerospace parts as well as oil and gas exploration. (Post)

Unmanned systems
This item is of interest to the folks in Moss Point, Miss., who build Fire Scout unmanned helicopters. The Navy is launching its first unmanned helicopter squadron next month in Coronado, Calif.

HUQ-1 Hydras will train current pilots and enlisted non-pilots to fly the unmanned helicopters likely to become common on Navy ships. MQ-8C Fire Scouts, built by Northrop Grumman, will arrive at North Island Naval Air Station in 2014.

The larger version of the Fire Scout will be operated off destroyers and frigates. The Navy has tested the MQ-8B version of the Fire Scout on frigates and have deployed them in Afghanistan. (Post)

Northrop Grumman and the Air Force are working on a precision guidance system for a rocket-propelled bomb for the F-35 that attacks deeply buried targets. Northrop Grumman won a $1.8 million contract to gather data to support development of an RF seeker for the future High Velocity Penetrating Weapons. It aims to develop a 2,000-pound bunker-buster with the punch of a 5,000-pound gravity bomb. (Post)

Pensacola, Fla.'s average air fare is 11th highest among the 100 largest airports in the nation, according to figures from the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics. The Pensacola News Journal reports that the average ticket price out of Pensacola as of April 1 was nearly $447, up 15 percent from a year ago. Driving it are fuel prices and  reduced seating capacity. (Post)

Alutiiq 3SG LLC, Anchorage, Ark., was awarded an $11.6 million contract to procure support for the Acquisition of Civil Engineering Base Operations Support at Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla. The location of the performance is Tyndall. (Post)

Contract: Ingalls of Pascagoula, Miss., was awarded a contract for CG 47-class cruisers and DD 963-class destroyers Integrated Planning Yard Services. The base year of the contract has an estimated value of $83.3 million, and if options are exercised, a cumulative value of $468.1 million. Work will be done in Pascagoula, and is expected to be completed by August 2013. (Post)

Contract: Northrop Grumman Systems Corp., Bethpage, N.Y., was awarded an $18.8 million modification to previously awarded contract to provide engineering and production planning services for mission packages that will deploy from and integrate with the Littoral Combat Ship. Twenty percent of the work will be done in Panama City, Fla. (Post)

JHSV: The Navy christened the Joint High Speed Vessel Choctaw County Saturday in Mobile, Ala. The 338 foot-long aluminum catamaran was built by Austal USA in Mobile. (Post)

Destroyer: Ingalls in Pascagoula, Miss., has started fabrication on the U.S. Navy's next Aegis guided missile destroyer, John Finn (DDG 113). The ship will be the 29th Arleigh Burke-class destroyer built at Ingalls. (Post)

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