For those of us old enough to remember the excitement during the early years of the nation's space program, Friday's successful Orion mission test gave us something to applaud, and brought back fond memories. It even looked something like those early years with the splashdown and recovery by a Navy ship in the Pacific.
But the images of the capsule's descent and splashdown show just how far we've come. Not only were the pictures higher quality than in the past, but one of the photographers was a NASA Predator drone flying in the area.
The unmanned Orion space capsule, designed to eventually carry astronauts into deep space, was initially scheduled to launch Thursday but that was delayed until Friday. After lifting off from Cape Canaveral on Florida's East Coast, the unmanned capsule took two laps around the Earth, 3,600 miles up, before making a picture-perfect landing in the Pacific Ocean some 600 miles from San Diego, about 270 miles west of Baja California.
One of the most important tests for the spacecraft was the heat shield, which was subjected to 4,000 degree temperatures as it plunged through the atmosphere at 20,000 mph. It passed with flying colors.
The 11-foot tall capsule was slowed by three orange-and-white parachutes, and was traveling at just 20 mph when it hit the water. The capsule was recovered by the crew of the San Diego-based amphibious vessel, USS Anchorage. The capsule will arrive in San Diego Sunday or Monday.
The Gulf Coast has reason to be proud of its role. Lockheed Martin built about 75 percent of the Orion space capsule at NASA's Michoud Assembly Facility in east New Orleans. That facility is also working on the first stage of the Space Launch System that will be used to launch future Orions.
In addition, the rocket that stood in for the Space Launch System in this test flight, the United Launch Alliance Delta IV built in Decatur, Ala., is powered by Rocketdyne RS-68 engines tested at Stennis Space Center, Miss. And the San Antonio-class LPD that retrieved the space capsule was built at Louisiana's Avondale Shipyard when it was part of Northrop Grumman Ship Systems. That company is now Huntington Ingalls Industries.
The latest edition of the Gulf Coast Reporters’ League aerospace newsletter will publish Tuesday morning. Once it's published, you'll be able to find the free 8-page PDF at the Gulf Coast Aerospace Corridor website, or you can sign up to have it sent to your inbox.
In the latest edition, Charlotte Crane will fill you in on aerospace activities in the smaller, rural counties of Northwest Florida, where luring aviation may not be a top priority, but does represent an opportunity that's knocking. In this edition, you'll also find a story by Kaija Wilkinson about what the future holds for Mobile, Ala., aircraft engine-maker Continental Motors, which is owned by the Chinese aerospace giant AVIC.
The December issue also has an article by Mark O’Brien, who tells you about Marianna Airmotive, a Cantonment, Fla., company that plays a key role ensuring that the Air Force's monster C-5 transports stay airborne. Last but not least, writer Tom McLaughlin will tell you about P-601, a new, tougher, fuel-resistant asphalt that's starting to make headway at airports.
So make sure you grab a copy. If you miss it, each story will also be highlighted in the Gulf Coast daily aerospace news feed, beginning Tuesday.
The National Training and Simulation Association selected the F-35 Training System for the 2014 Modeling and Simulation Award. The award recognizes the 33rd Fighter Wing at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., the F-35 Joint Program Office and Lockheed Martin for delivering an effective, immersive training experience for F-35 pilots and maintainers.
As the first of its kind in the Department of Defense, the 33rd Fighter Wing is responsible for F-35 pilot and maintainer training for DoD and, in the future, at least eight coalition partners. To date, more than 140 pilots and 1,500 maintainers from the U.S. Air Force, Marine Corps, Navy, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands have graduated from Eglin’s Integrated Training Center. (Post)
-- The Office of Naval Research's Manufacturing Technology program received one of the nation's top manufacturing awards for an innovative, cost-saving method for making advanced cockpit canopies for the F-35. The Department of Defense's Joint Defense Manufacturing Technology Achievement Award was given for developing an automated process will be used to make canopies for more than 2,000 aircraft, saving nearly $125 million over the life of the F-35 program. (Post)
-- Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co., Fort Worth, Texas, was awarded a $97.8 million modification to a previously awarded advance acquisition contract for a financial arrangement implementing a Foreign Military Sales Letter of Offer for the government of Israel in support of the F-35 program. Work will be done in Fort Worth, Texas, and is expected to be completed in December 2022. The Naval Air Systems Command, Patuxent River, Md., is the contracting authority. (Post)
NASA research at Stennis Space Center, Miss., could help hospital MRI machines and fuel-cell cars of the future. Engineers are testing a technology that could yield new sources of both helium gas required for cooling MRI machines and purified, high-pressure hydrogen gas, the fuel for fuel-cells.
SSC produces a lot of hydrogen and helium gas mixture in its rocket tests. Right now it's burned off or vented into the air. But Sustainable Innovations of East Hartford, Conn., has developed an electrochemical Hydrogen Recovery System (HRS) that will allow NASA to extract hydrogen from rocket fuel line purge gas, leaving behind high-value helium, a purified stream compressed to commercial storage pressure.
The company developed HRS for NASA under a Phase II Small Business Technology Transfer program. The same technology on which HRS is based will also be useful for separating hydrogen from CO2 and CO in the life support technologies now being tested and developed for its manned spaceflight missions. (Post)
Finnair firmed up an order for eight more Airbus A350 XWB aircraft, a decision that means additional Trent XWB engine business worth $450 million at list prices. The aircraft are in addition to 11 Airbus A350 XWBs that the airline already has on order, powered by the same engine.
The Trent XWB is the fastest-selling widebody engine ever with more than 1,500 engines already sold. It will power the first A350 XWB into service later this year. Trent engines are tested by Rolls-Royce at Stennis Space Center, Miss. (Post)
VentureCrossings in Florida's Bay County is the first industrial site to complete Gulf Power's Florida First Sites program. Fourteen sites were initially submitted, and nine are still working towards certification. Most expect to be certified by the end of February.
VentureCrossings Enterprise Centre, adjacent to Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport, has been determined to have proper zoning, service to utilities and also met numerous other qualifications that make it ready for development. St. Joe Co., Gulf Power and local, regional and state economic development agencies will now work to market the site to prospective companies. (Post)
Speegle Construction Inc., Niceville, Fla., was awarded a $7.7 million contract to construct a satellite dining facility at Cannon Air Force Base, N.M., with an estimated completion date of May 8, 2016. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Albuquerque District, Albuquerque, N.M., is the contracting activity.