Saturday, February 23, 2013

Week in review (2/17 to 2/23)

Two cutting-edge ideas for space propulsion; the grounding of F-35s because of a crack in an engine blade; the flight of the first production model F-35C; a new round of testing of the J-2X engine; an airport finally gets paid by Vision Airlines; two new aviation schools for high school students; and grants from Florida to protect bases in Northwest Florida were some of the news items of interest to the Gulf Coast aerospace region.

Here's the week in review:

A routine engine inspection at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., revealed a crack on an engine blade of the F135 engine installed in F-35A aircraft AF-2. As a precaution, all F-35 flight operations, including those at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., have been suspended until the investigation is completed.

The engine's turbine module and associated hardware is being shipped to Pratt & Whitney's Engine Facility in Middletown, Conn., to conduct more thorough evaluation and root cause analysis.

For Eglin, home of the F-35 training center, that means no flying for 22 F-35s. The base has nine F-35A conventional takeoff and landing jets and 13 F-35B short takeoff and vertical landing jets already on station.

Earlier this month Pratt & Whitney was awarded a $65 million modification to a previously awarded advanced acquisition contract for F135 Lot VI recurring sustainment, operations, and maintenance efforts, including labor and materials required to maintain and repair F135s. Before that Pratt & Whitney finalized a contract with the Pentagon for 32 engines to power a fifth batch of F-35s. (Post)

If you've followed the F-35 issue a long time, you'll recall that there once was an alternate engine for the aircraft: the General Electric/Rolls-Royce F136. The Pentagon decided to stop development of the alternate engine, but the companies continued funding it on their own for a while. They finally gave up the effort in late 2011.

Meanwhile, the first Lockheed Martin production model F-35C carrier variant, known as CF-6, flew its first sortie recently in Fort Worth, Texas. Upon delivery later this year, the jet will be assigned to Navy Fighter Attack Squadron 101, VFA-101, at Eglin. The unit will serve as the Fleet Replacement Squadron, training Navy F-35C pilots and maintainers. (Post)

An associate pointed out an interesting piece by Bloomberg during the week. The story says the F-35 program may be too big to kill. Lockheed Martin has a network of 45 states and 1,300 suppliers involved in the program, and at least nine other countries have a piece of the action. (Story)

This news likely made folks in Moss Point, Miss., just a bit uncomfortable. But the folks who make fuselages for Global Hawks need to keep in mind that in an age where the Pentagon is tightening its belt, a lot of programs are on the table.

Aviation Week during the week reported that in early talks on the forthcoming fiscal 2014 budget request, the Air Force proposes the Block 40 Global Hawk be terminated in favor of higher-priority programs. Northrop Grumman declined to comment.

Northrop Grumman has delivered eight of 11 Block 40s on order. Sixteen Block 30s of 30 planned have been delivered. Early work on the next of each block is under way at the company's Moss Point facility and both are slated for delivery in 2014.

NATO's work on the Global Hawk-based Alliance Ground Surveillance program continues as does the Navy’s program to outfit a Global Hawk for maritime surveillance. In a related matter, a Global Hawk support unit at Beale Air Force Base, Calif., will be deactivated Sept. 29 due to Pentagon budget cutbacks. There are 80 full-time and 115 traditional Air Force reservists serving in the affected 13th Reconnaissance Squadron. (Post)

If you're interested in space and the propulsion systems – and in this region we are – you'll be interested in these items that came down the pike during the week.

Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley was in Huntsville Friday to unveil a "fusion power generator" developed by the University of Alabama in Huntsville that could revolutionize space travel, according to the Huntsville Times.

The event at the Army's Redstone Arsenal was to announce the $300,000 grant from the Alabama Innovation Fund and to unveil the device, called Charger 1. Officials say Charger 1 will be instrumental in advancing propulsion technology and maintaining Alabama's status as a leading state in aerospace and propulsion research.

Huntsville has close ties to the Gulf Coast. Stennis Space Center, Miss., is where NASA and commercial companies test propulsion systems. The ties go back to the 1960s, and continue to this day. (Post)

Speaking of cutting-edge systems, NASA's Space Technology Program is seeking proposals to develop miniaturized electrospray propulsion technologies that could revolutionize small satellite propulsion systems. These systems have been around a while, but NASA is pushing for further development.

Electrospray thrusters use electricity to energize material and then disperse a resulting liquid or aerosol through an emitter to create thrust. The development of low-mass, lightweight micro thruster technologies has the potential to radically change propulsion capabilities of small satellites, according to NASA, and they could be used in larger systems as well.

"Small spacecraft are a dominant trend in aerospace today," said NASA's Space Technology Program Director Michael Gazarik. "As NASA develops and improves the use of small satellites for science and exploration, we recognize propulsion as a critical need to open the door for small spacecraft applications. We need better miniaturized systems to propel and maneuver our small space adventurers."

NASA will take ideas from U.S. organizations, including NASA centers and other government agencies; federally funded research and development centers; educational institutions; industry and nonprofit organizations. (Post)

We have a lot of folks in this region involved in propulsion technology, so don't be surprised if some ideas come from this neck of the woods. NASA builds pieces of the next generation space exploration system at Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans, and NASA tests large rocket engines at Stennis Space Center, Miss. And that's also where Rolls-Royce tests airliner engines.

Not that far away, just north of Hattiesburg, Miss., GE Aviation is building an engine parts plant. In Alabama, Auburn is getting a new GE Aviation engine parts place, and in Florida, Florida State University has its Florida Center for Advanced Aero-Propulsion in Tallahassee.

Bet a few of these folks and private companies could come up with proposals for NASA.

This is an interesting follow-up to something I wrote about in Wednesday’s column. That column talked about the Pentagon’s interest in establishing cutting-edge manufacturing clusters nationwide. Now here's something from NASA, also about innovation.

The military has always been interested in finding technologies that will give it the edge in war, but NASA has been "out there" on the cutting edge of science since the agencies inception. Last week I mentioned the latest edition of Spinoff, which highlights the NASA-related technologies that worked their way into the private sector. And those are just the things that found commercial applications.

So it's not surprising that NASA Administrator Charles Bolden during the week announced creation of the Space Technology Mission Directorate. As envisioned, it will be a catalyst for the creation of technologies and innovation needed to maintain NASA leadership in space while also benefiting America's economy.

The directorate will develop the cross-cutting, pioneering new technologies needed for NASA's current and future missions, many of which also benefit America's aerospace industries and other government agencies.

NASA will focus leadership responsibility for the existing Space Technology Program in the mission directorate, improving communication, management and accountability of critical technology investment activities across the agency. Associate Administrator Michael Gazarik will head the organization.

The Space Technology Mission Directorate will employ a portfolio approach, spanning a range of discipline areas and technology readiness levels. Research and technology development will take place within NASA centers, in academia, and industry, and leverage collaboration with other government and international partners. (Post)

Earlier I mentioned what we have here related to propulsion systems, but I should also mention that we have two universities involved in advanced materials work, certainly a critical field for NASA. The University of Southern Mississippi has its school of polymer and high performance materials and the Mississippi Polymer Institute in Hattiesburg, and in Tallahassee Florida State University has its High-Performance Materials Institute.

NASA conducted the first in a new round of tests on the J-2X rocket engine Feb. 15 at Stennis Space Center, Miss. The 35-second test continued progress in development of the engine that will power the upper-stage of NASA's new Space Launch System.

The new round of tests on J-2X engine number 10002 on the A-2 Test Stand will provide performance data. Once the series is completed, the engine will be transferred to the A-1 Test Stand at SSC to undergo a series of gimbal tests for the first time.

The J-2X engine is the first human-rated liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen engine developed in the United States in decades. It is being designed and built by NASA and partner Pratt and Whitney Rocketdyne of Canoga Park, Calif. (Post)

-- ATK delivered a launch abort motor to Kennedy Space Center, Fla., for Exploration Flight Test (EFT-1) of NASA's Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle, scheduled to fly next year. The test flight abort motor is configured with inert propellant since EFT-1 will have no crew but otherwise replicates the launch abort system that will ensure astronaut safety.

The abort motor is part of Orion's Launch Abort System designed to pull the Orion crew module away from the launch vehicle in the event of an emergency on the launch pad or during the initial ascent. The launch abort motor is more than 17 feet tall. ATK is on contract to Lockheed Martin, prime contractor building the Orion spacecraft, being built in part at Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans. (Post)

-- NASA Administrator Charles Bolden saw some cutting-edge techniques being used to create parts for the engines of the Space Launch System during a visit Friday to Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville. Bolden saw the National Center for Advanced Manufacturing Rapid Prototyping Facility to take a look at equipment used in selective laser melting, similar to 3-D printing. Laser melting enables the production of complex, strong metal parts without welding. NASA also has the National Center for Advanced Manufacturing is at Michoud Assembly Facility, New Orleans. (Post)

-- Lockheed Martin Space Systems Co., Sunnyvale, Calif., was awarded a $284.4 million contract for advanced procurement for the Space-Based Infrared Systems GEO 5-6 program. The location of performance is Sunnyvale, Calif., and work is expected to be completed by June 19, 2016. But some of the work will be done at Lockheed Martin's facility at Stennis Space Center, which works on the SBIR propulsion subsystem. (Post)

Less than 24 hours after it was charged with grand theft, Vision Airlines paid the money it owed Okaloosa County. The Nevada-based carrier sent a check for $117,659.98 to Northwest Florida Regional Airport early Tuesday, county Airports Director Greg Donovan said.

The Northwest Florida Daily News reported that State Attorney Bill Eddins said he was pleased to hear that Vision had paid the county. "It is certainly a mitigating factor in the criminal case," he said. "But it's premature for me to indicate where this leaves us." Vision Airlines owed the county a portion of the passenger facility charges it collected while operating at Northwest Florida Regional from December 2010 to July 2012. (Post)

-- Passenger traffic at Florida's Pensacola International Airport increased by more than four percent in January. The Pensacola News Journal reported airport marketing spokeswoman Belinda Zephir said a total of 101,647 passengers passed through the city-owned facility last month, an increase of 4,098. (Post)

-- In Florida, Destin's refurbished runway opened last week and within minutes  planes were touching down. Crews from C.W. Roberts and RS&H spent the past month resurfacing the 5,000-foot-long, 100-foot-wide runway, according to the Destin Log and Northwest Florida Daily News. The airport had been closed to fixed-wing air traffic since Feb. 4 during the runway’s first major overhaul since it opened in 1963. The airport sees about 60,000 flights a year. (Post)

The state is sending funds to Escambia, Santa Rosa and Bay counties to help support the
military. The Florida Defense Support Task Force is providing $500,000 to the Bay Defense Alliance in Panama City to acquire land to buffer Naval Support Activity Panama City from encroachment.

Florida is also providing $250,000 the Greater Pensacola Chamber to help outfit a lab for cyber security analysis. The Andrews Institute in Gulf Breeze will receive $225,000 to help Wounded Warriors recuperate, and Santa Rosa County is getting $160,000 to build a fence separating Naval Air Station Whiting Field from the New Whiting Aviation Park.

Another $1.5 million was awarded to six other projects in Orlando, Highlands County and Jacksonville. (Post)

-- The chief of staff, Air Force announced several assignments of interest to the Gulf Coast region. Maj. Gen. Norman J. Brozenick Jr., commander, Special Operations Command - Pacific, U.S. Pacific Command, Camp H.M. Smith, Hawaii, is being assigned to vice commander, Air Force Special Operations Command, Hurlburt Field, Fla.; Brig. Gen. Marshall B. Webb, selected for the rank of major general, director, plans, programs, requirements, and assessments at headquarters Air Force Special Operations Command, Hurlburt Field, is being assigned to commander, Special Operations Command - Europe/director, Special Operations, U.S. European Command, Stuttgart-Vaihingen, Germany; Col. Albert M. Elton II, selected for the rank of brigadier general, commander, 27th Special Operations Wing, Air Force Special Operations Command, Cannon Air Force Base, N.M., is being assigned as director, plans, programs, requirements, and assessments, headquarters Air Force Special Operations Command, Hurlburt Field. (Post)

Officials with Alabama's Mobile County schools unveiled plans on Monday for the new Aerospace Training Facility to be built at B.C. Rain High School. The 15,500-square-foot building, which will cost $1.9 million, will be able to accommodate a variety of training programs. The Aerospace Training Facility is part of the school system’s signature academies initiative. Davidson High has an engineering academy, while Murphy High offers programs in international studies and culinary arts. (Post)

Across the bay from Mobile in Fairhope, city, state and county officials gathered in Continental Motors' hangar at the municipal airport Friday to announce a $2.5 million aviation training center. It’s a partnership between Faulkner State Community College, Enterprise State, the Fairhope Airport Authority and the Baldwin County Board of Education. Plans are to create a 15,000-square-foot aviation center on the land at the H.L. “Sonny” Callahan Airport. A target opening date is set for early 2014. ( story, WPMI story)

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