Saturday, April 19, 2014

Week in review (4/13 to 4/19)

Dignitaries will be out in force Monday for the ribbon cutting for SpaceX's new engine component research and development operation at Stennis Space Center in South Mississippi. Mississippi's governor will be there, as well as a senator and congressman. Gwynne Shotwell, the president of SpaceX, will also be on hand for the 3 p.m. ceremony. (Post)

SpaceX is familiar to folks who follow the growing field of commercial space. SpaceX of Hawthorne, Calif., was the first commercial company to successfully dock with the International Space Station in May 2012 (post), then followed it in October with its first successful resupply mission. On Friday at Cape Canaveral, Fla., SpaceX used its Falcon 9 rocket to launch an unmanned Dragon capsule for the company's third resupply mission to the ISS. SpaceX is due to complete 12 missions for NASA.

So when SpaceX announced in October 2013 that it would use SSC, NASA's largest rocket engine test facility, to test its next generation deep-space Raptor methane rocket engines, it was significant. It brings another piece of the commercial space ventures to the Gulf Coast region. (GCAC story)

Another company that sends cargo to the ISS, Orbital Sciences, also has ties to Stennis Space Center. Orbital's launch vehicle, the Antares, uses Aerojet AJ26 engines to lift it from the launch pad. Those engines also are tested at SSC.

SpaceX has plans for far more than missions to the ISS. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk, who is also cofounder of PayPal, has been keenly interested in flying manned missions to Mars. That requires powerful engines like those that have historically been tested at SSC.

Raptor is under development for a higher performance upper stage for SpaceX launch vehicles. SpaceX will use the E2 test stand for R&D of its methane-fueled Raptors, capable of generating nearly 300 tons of thrust. The E-2 can support both vertical and horizontal rocket engine tests. The state supplied $500,000 in incentives to improve the stand.

With the upgrades, the stand is one of the most sophisticated high-pressure test facilities in the world capable of supporting many potential users. It will remain the property of SSC for future use as needed.

After the SpaceX announcement in October 2013, Sen. Thad Cochran pointed out that talks had been going on with SpaceX for many years about working at SSC. "I hope this is just the beginning of their endeavors in our state," he said.

But the significance goes well beyond the Stennis-Michoud area of South Mississippi and Louisiana. For the rest of the Gulf Coast region vying for more aerospace activities, having SpaceX doing R&D in the region might well be the kind of information that seals a deal. The more high profile aerospace companies, the more significant their activities, the better for the entire region.

-- With testing of the J-2X engine completed April 10, engineers at Stennis Space Center are now preparing the RS-25 engine for the test stands. Four RS-25 engines, the same engines that powered the Space Shuttles, will power the core stage of Space Launch System that will take astronauts deeper into space than ever before.

More than 200 feet tall with a diameter of 27.6 feet, the core stage will store cryogenic liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen that will feed the RS-25s. Modifications to the engines, like higher thrust levels, were needed on the engines for the SLS. (Post)

-- NASA's Orion spacecraft passed a test designed to determine readiness for its first flight test, Exploration Flight Test-1. EFT-1 later this year will send the spacecraft more than 3,600 miles from Earth then back.

The spacecraft ran for 26 uninterrupted hours during the final phase of a major test series completed April 8 at NASA's Kennedy Space Center, Fla. Orion is built in part at Michoud Assembly Facility, New Orleans. (Post)

A column about aerospace activities in the Gulf Coast region wouldn't be complete with some new information on Airbus, which is building an A320 final assembly line at the Mobile Aeroplex. Mobile officials are gearing up to apply for a highly competitive $10 million grant to renovate Broad Street from Water Street to the Mobile Aeroplex. That's according to a story in the Mobile Press-Register/ The goal of the project is to rebuild and revitalize 3.7 miles of the busy thoroughfare in preparation for the increased traffic and attention expected once the assembly line opens.

-- With the more fuel efficient A320neo set to start flight tests in October, industry sources claim Airbus is considering shifting its focus to avionics, cabin and other system improvements that could sustain the A320 well into the 2020s

Aviation Week says that according to sources, suppliers will meet with Airbus later this month to discuss various upgrade packages for the A320neo. The initiative could result in a series of systems and interior upgrades that would start being introduced as of early 2016 onto production aircraft. (Post)

Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., is home of the F-35 training center, and news about that stealthy aircraft is of high interest to the folks over there. Along those lines, the Lockheed Martin F-35 fleet recently surpassed 15,000 flight hours. As of April 7, operational F-35s had flown 8,050 hours while System Development and Demonstration aircraft had accumulated 7,123 flight hours.

In 2014, F-35A test aircraft have flown 328 hours; F-35B test aircraft compiled 191 hours; and F-35C test aircraft have flown 91 hours. In comparison, operational F-35As have flown 963 hours, while their F-35B and F-35C counterparts have accumulated 1,012 and 98 hours respectively for the year. (Post)

-- Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co., Fort Worth, Texas, was awarded a $54.6 million modification to a previously awarded contract for production non-recurring technical assistance in support of the F-35 Lot VII effort for the Navy, Air Force, and international partner governments.

Work will be done in California, Texas, United Kingdom, Florida, New Hampshire, Georgia, New York and Canada and is expected to be completed in January 2015. The Naval Air Systems Command, Patuxent River, Md., is the contracting activity. (Post)

Former Blue Angel Capt. Gregory McWherter has been relieved of duty as executive officer of Naval Base Coronado, Calif., pending an investigation into alleged misconduct while he was commander of the Blue Angels aerial demonstration team. McWherter was commanding officer and flight leader of the Pensacola, Fla.-based Blue Angels from November 2008 to November 2010, and from May 2011 to November 2012. (Post)

Contract: Alion Science and Technology Corp., Washington, D.C., was awarded a $25 million modification to previously awarded contract for additional professional support services in support of the Surface Warfare Directorate. Six percent of the work will be done in Pascagoula, Miss. (Post)

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