Saturday, April 26, 2014

Week in review (4/20 to 4/26)

SpaceX has certainly been in the news quite a bit. There are of course the successful missions to the International Space Station, and earlier this week it held a ribbon-cutting for its new operation at Stennis Space Center, Miss.

Now there's the suit against the U.S. Air Force. The company said Friday it will file suit over the awarding of billions of dollars to United Launch Alliance for national security launches in the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle program. The suit reportedly will be filed Monday. (Post)

SpaceX, which is the most high profile of the commercial companies that has taken on the mission of sending cargo to the ISS, has its eye on even more. It has made no secret that it wants to go deeper into space, and a rocket engine that will take it there will be tested at SSC. And it also wants a piece of the lucrative national security launches.

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk pointed out when announcing the suit that the contracts to UAL, a joint venture of Boeing and Lockheed Martin, might even violate sanctions against Russia over that mess in the Ukraine. That's because UAL's Atlas V first stage uses Russian-built RD-180 engines. The other EELV launch system, UAL's Delta IV, uses an SSC-tested Rocketdyne RS-68 for the first stage.

But UAL, which makes the Atlas V and Delta IV in Decatur, Ala., has been highly successful with 68 successful launches in a row. And let’s face it, the military is conservative and likes to go with a proven product.

SpaceX has been highly successful with its ISS missions, and it's showing that it’s no slouch at venturing into other activities. But its launch system still has to be certified as meeting military standards, something that is expected.

Testing of that new, more powerful SpaceX engine that I mentioned above will begin within a month at NASA's rocket engine test facility in South Mississippi. A ceremonial ribbon-cutting was held Monday marking the start of a partnership.

SpaceX plans to test its methane-fueled Raptor rocket engine on the E-2 test stand. The reuseable engine is being developed for a heavy-lift launch vehicle that will make SpaceX a player in deep space.

"In partnership with NASA, SpaceX has helped create one of the most advanced engine testing facilities in the world, and we look forward to putting the stand to good use," said Gwynne Shotwell, president and chief operating officer of SpaceX.

"These types of activities are opening new doors of commercial space exploration for companies," said Stennis Center Director Rick Gilbrech. (Post)

Speaking of SSC and NASA, for the fourth consecutive year NASA tops the list of most innovative large federal agencies, according to the Partnership for Public Service. The agency scored 76 points out of 100 on the innovation scale. It also accomplished a first in 2013: NASA is the parent agency to the top five most innovative sub-agencies on the list, with John C. Stennis Space Center in Mississippi ranking No. 1. (Post)

Australia will order 58 more F-35 fighters for $11.61 billion. Australia approved the purchase of 14 of the stealth fighters in 2009, and the additional jets will provide the Royal Australian Air Force with enough aircraft to form three operational squadrons and one training squadron. The first F-35 aircraft will arrive in Australia in 2018 and enter service with the RAAF in 2020. Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., is home of the F-35 training center. (Post)

At Eglin during the week, pilots from Hill Air Force Base, Utah, trained alongside the new F-35 fighter for the first time Thursday. The pilots didn’t fly the F-35 but did participate in a training mission in F-16s. Hill will receive 72 F-35s next year. The jets will be flown by 388th and 419th fighter wings. (Post)

A Japanese-owned plant in Vietnam will make composite parts for the winglets on A320 aircraft, officials announced during the week. Nikkiso Vietnam will be a subcontractor for Korean Air Aerospace Division (KAL-ASD), which has been an Airbus supplier since 1998 and sole supplier of winglets since 2010. (Post)

Nikkiso Co. has operations worldwide and is involved in fields, including aerospace, which specializes in aerospace and manufactures carbon fiber reinforced plastic products for aircraft, space, and satellite components. The company established Nikkiso Vietnam in December 2008. It has also supplied components for GE Blocker Doors for the Boeing 777.

Its plant outside of Hanoi and will make composite vertical bars and armor plates of winglets beginning before the end of the year. KAL-ASD, by the way, delivered its 1,000th winglet, designed to improve air flow and reduce drag, in February of this year.

Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport (ECP) in West Bay, near Panama City, Fla., had a nearly 10 percent decrease in passengers, falling from 171,741 in March 2013 to 155,161 this year. ECP’s market share also dropped. It held a 19 percent market share between January and March, falling behind both Tallahassee Regional Airport and Northwest Florida Regional Airport in Fort Walton Beach, which held 21 and 20 percent, respectively. Pensacola currently holds 40 percent of the market. By comparison, ECP held 22 percent of the market between January and September of 2013, Tallahassee had 19, Fort Walton 20 and Pensacola 40 percent. (Post)

There was a ceremony at Hurlburt Field, Fla., Thursday marking the anniversary of Operation Eagle Claw, the ill-fated April 1980 attempt to rescue American hostages from Iran. As U.S. forces prepared to abort the operation, one of the helicopters crashed into a transport aircraft, which contained both service members and jet fuel. The resulting fire killed eight service members. Five were from Hurlburt Field. (Post)

-- Two Air Force installations were among the winners of the 2014 Secretary of Defense Environmental Awards. The Natural Resources Team at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., won the Natural Resources Conservation, Individual/Team award for offered long-range solutions that ensured regulatory compliance while maximizing the use of land and water ranges to maintain mission readiness. The other Air Force base was Wright-Patterson in Ohio, and the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center F-35 Environmental, Safety and Occupational Health Support Team. (Post)

-- It’s not until June 15 that Keesler Air Force Base’s 345th Tactical Airlift Squadron stands down, but there was a ceremony in Mississippi April 18 marking the end of the unit. Its C-130J aircraft will be sent to another base. The 345th is an active-duty component of the 403rd Wing. Earlier this week, Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California, the majority whip, visited Keesler and said he thinks the best place to keep the C-130J aircraft is at Keesler. (Post)

The city of DeFuniak Springs, Fla., on Saturday hosted its fourth annual fly-in aviation festival at the DeFuniak Springs Municipal Airport. Planes on display at the "Marvel of Flight" festival include a B-25, Chinese and Russian military planes, Huey and Cobra helicopters and more. (Post)

Midwest Air Traffic Control Service Inc., Overland Park, Kan., and Readiness Management Support LC, Panama City, Fla., were each awarded contract for the procurement of air traffic management and electronic equipment maintenance services to support air traffic control operations, airfield management, air to ground communications operations and maintenance, surveillance and precision radar systems operations and maintenance, voice communications systems operations and maintenance, and aviation command and control operations and maintenance. Work will be performed in Southwest Asia.

JHSV: Navy’s first-in-class Joint High Speed Vessel, the Mobile, Ala.-built USNS Spearhead (JHSV 1), participated in exercise Obangame Express along with European, Atlantic and African partners in the Gulf of Guinea April 16-21. (Post)
Contract: Northrop Grumman, Annapolis, Md., was awarded a $25 million modification to a previously awarded contract for the continuation of depot level repair, maintenance, related engineering services and more for work related to mine detection. The Naval Surface Warfare Center Panama City Division, Panama City, Fla., is the contracting activity. (Post)
Contract: General Dynamics Bath Iron Works, Bath, Maine, was awarded a $28.7 million modification to previously awarded contract for Littoral Combat Ship class design services. One percent of the work will be done in Mobile, Ala. (Post)

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