Saturday, August 24, 2013

Week in review (8/18 to 8/24)

A somewhat unsettling scenario is developing in the nation's space debris surveillance effort. With the next generation space surveillance system, Space Fence, now five years away and the current Air Force Space Surveillance System slated to be mothballed soon, Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., will have an increasingly important role tracking space debris.

Here's some background from a recent story in Space News:

The budget crunch is hitting the U.S. military space program, and the Air Force is delaying and revising plans for its next-generation space-object tracking system. The full-scale development contract for its next-generation Space Fence won't be awarded until next March, later than previously planned.

At the same time the Air Force expects to save about $14 million a year by shutting down the current space fence, which consists of a line of radars stretching across the southern United States. It's a key component of the overall U.S. Space Surveillance Network, which includes other ground- and space-based sensor assets.

Space Command is looking at modified operating modes for the Perimeter Acquisition Radar Characterization System (PARCS) at Cavalier Air Force Station, N.D., and the space surveillance radar at Eglin. While this points out the high value of the Eglin operation, T.S. Kelso, senior research astrodynamicist at the Center for Space Standards & Innovation, a research arm of orbit-modeling software provider AGI, is worried about depending too heavily on Eglin. Kelso said that with Eglin being the only remaining dedicated space surveillance radar, any outages there would effectively leave us blind. (Story)

We'll keep on an eye on this one. But if you want more background stories, tries these:
Space Fence shutting down?
AF begins using SBSS
Group tackling space debris
Feature: 20th Space Control Squadron
Here's an interesting video on space debris accumulation over the years.

-- By the summer of 2016 the Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans will complete
construction of a tank for NASA's new Space Launch System. Gordon Bergstue, production director for Boeing, said the company is on schedule and in budget with the core stage of SLS.

The core stage is more than 200 feet tall and will store liquid hydrogen and oxygen to power four RS-25 engines that will lift SLS. The RS-25 engines will be tested at Stennis Space Center, Miss., some 35 miles from Michoud. (Post)

-- NASA during the week released new video animation showing how an asteroid capture mission might look. The images show crew operations including the Orion spacecraft’s trip to and rendezvous with the asteroid and astronauts maneuvering through a spacewalk to collect samples from the asteroid. Stennis Space Center, Miss., and Michoud Assembly Facility, New Orleans, are both involved in the SLS program. (Post)

The July/August 2013 issue of Business Facilities magazine has two Gulf Coast cities as No. 1 and 2 in a list of U.S. metro areas with the highest economic growth potential. Baton Rouge, La., was ranked at the top and Mobile, Ala., was No. 2. Mobile's ranking was for landing what the magazine called the “crown jewel” of aerospace manufacturing, the $600 million Airbus final assembly line.

Business Facilities Editor in Chief Jack Rogers said Airbus will "be a powerful engine for growth in the Mobile region for decades to come." (Post)

Airbus is building a plant at the Brookley Aeroplex to assemble its A319, A320 and A321 aircraft. The plant will have up to 1,000 employees when it reaches full capacity. It will also mean over 3,000 construction jobs over next few years.

A supplier network is taking shape. A subsidiary of Labinal, Safran Engineering Services, announced in December that it will operate an engineering supporting facility in Mobile. Labinal is part of the French aerospace conglomerate, Safran Group.

Marine Corps test pilot Lt. Col. Russell Clift recently performed the first F-35B night-time vertical landing aboard the USS Wasp. At the conclusion of Developmental Test Phase II, it is expected the Navy and Marine Corps will have sufficient data to support certification for future F-35B shipboard operations in anticipation of initial operating capability in 2015. Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., is home of the F-35 training center. (Post)

-- Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co., Fort Worth, Texas, was awarded a $34.5 million modification to the previously awarded Low Rate Initial Production Lot 6 Advance Acquisition contract for the F-35. This modification provides for the procurement of Autonomic Logistics Information System equipment, training devices and sustainment and logistics support for non-recurring engineering activities for the government of Italy. (Post)

Florida Gov. Rick Scott and his cabinet approved the purchase of a conservation easement on a 21,000-acre tract on the east side of Eglin Air Force Base. The $12.5 million purchase is being accomplished through a partnership with DOD's Readiness and Environmental Protection Integration Program, with the department contributing $1.75 million and the Air Force $550,000. The Trust for Public Land also is a project partner. (Post)

One reason the state is interested in acquiring lands around bases is financial. Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla., just this week released its latest economic impact statement. The base, where F-22 pilots are trained, has a $617.8 million economic impact on Bay County and the surrounding area.

There are some 3,395 active duty military personnel at the base, and the economic impact considers payrolls, expenditures for contracts, materials, equipment, services, construction and other procurements. According to the latest figures from DoD, Tyndall's plant replacement value is set at $1.46 billion. (Post)

-- The Air Force's 96th Operations Group is doing some munitions testing in the Gulf of Mexico about 20 nautical miles south of Destin from through to Sept. 13. The morning tests, Mondays through Thursdays, are part of the 53rd Wing's Maritime Strike Program. (Post)

-- The 81st Training Wing at Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi, Miss., has a new commander. Brig. Gen. Patrick C. Higby replaced Brig. Gen. Brad Spacy during a change of command Friday. (Post)

-- The National Naval Aviation Museum at Naval Air Station Pensacola, Fla., is back to operating seven days a week. It started closing on Mondays in early July to cut costs during sequestration. But earlier this month the Pentagon found other alternatives to save money and reduced the number of furlough days from 11 to six. (Post)

Weapon systems
There were some news stories during the week on three weapons systems of interest to the Gulf Coast region. One is an aircraft, the other two are munitions.

Xinhau, citing local media reports, said Japan plans to add the Global Hawk unmanned aerial vehicle for reconnaissance duties in 2015. The Global Hawk is likely to be deployed at the United States' Misawa Air Base in northern Japan, although other locations are also being considered. The Global Hawk will be jointly operated by the U.S. Air Force and Japan's Air Self-Defense Force (JASDF). Global Hawks are built in part in Moss Point, Miss. (Story)

On the weapons front, Boeing marked production of the 250,000th Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) guidance kit, which converts unguided munitions into near-precision weapons. Maj. Gen. Scott W. Jansson, Air Force Life Cycle Management Center, Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., said JDAM remains a valuable asset to warfighters. With a range of more than 15 nautical miles, JDAM is an all-weather day or night weapon. (Post)

In another munitions-related item, Air Force researchers are asking industry to supply a high-power laser system. It should have output power of 1 to 1.5 Watts, operate at a wavelength of 2.95 microns and should be rugged enough to withstand shock of about six Gs. The Air Force Material Command AFTC/PZIO Operational Contracting Division at Eglin issued the solicitation. (Post)

LPD 25: The future USS Somerset, LPD 25, successfully completed builder's trials at Ingalls Shipbuilding's Avondale, La., yard. It's the ninth ship of the LPD 17-class of amphibious transport dock ships. (Post)

Contract: Lockheed Martin of Moorestown, N.J., was awarded an $18.2 million modification to previously awarded contract for cruiser and destroyer modernization testing efforts associated with the Aegis Combat System. Fifteen percent of the work will be done in Pascagoula, Miss. (Post)

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