Saturday, May 23, 2015

Week in review (5/17 to 5/14)

Not a day passes without some new item about unmanned aerial systems. Here's one from this week that caught my eye.

Pilots of F-35s will one day control a small fleet of drones from the cockpit while in flight. That's according to a new upcoming Air Force report on autonomous systems. Word about the report came from Air Force Chief Scientist Mica Endsley, as reported by

The Air Force is poised to unveil a new strategy for unmanned aircraft systems next month, and it will discuss, among other things, greater levels of automation and a wider scope of missions. The new Air Force report will highlight plans to improve sensors, develop new algorithms and introduce new unmanned platforms.

The Air Force currently uses Predators, Reapers and Global Hawks, all remotely piloted from the ground. Endsley said the future will include drones that are smarter and will handle things like mission planning. (Story)

If you want to really get a sense of how far robotics has come, pay attention next month to the robotic competition that will take place in California. Top robotic  teams in the nation will go against each other to see which has created a robot that can handle chores like driving a vehicle, opening a door and turning a wrench.

One of the teams that will be competing is from the Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition in Pensacola. In two previous competitions leading up to this one for a $2 million prize the Pensacola team came in first in the first competition and second the next time around with its 6-foot tall Atlas robot.

Now here's a review of the stories during the week of interest to the Gulf Coast Interstate 10 region:

Before pilots of F-35s can start controlling drones, the planes first have to achieve initial operating capability. Six Marine Corps F-35B fighters are currently aboard the USS Wasp off the East Coast for two weeks of operational tests.

Those tests are needed before the Marines can declare its first squadron of 10 F-35s ready for combat in July. The planes are assigned to Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 501 of Beaufort, S.C. That unit transferred to Beaufort last year from Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., where initial F-35 maintenance and pilot training is conducted. (Post)

NASA started work earlier this month in preparation for testing the core stage of its new, powerful Space Launch System (SLS). One million pounds of structural steel is being added to the B-2 stand to handle the large SLS stage.

A major step in the modification involves extension of the test stand's Main Propulsion Test Article (MPTA) framework, which supports the rocket stage for testing. It was repositioned last summer, now it's being heightened. An addition 100 feet will be added to the current 61-foot height.

When testing begins, all four RS-25 will be tested simultaneously. NASA's SLS is being developed to return humans to deep-space missions. Boeing is building the core stage at Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans. (Post)

Speaking of Stennis Space Center, NASA is looking for companies interested in using underutilized federal facilities at its rocket engine test site in South Mississippi, including the 300-foot tall, $350 million A-3 test stand.

NASA issued a request for information May 13. In addition to four test stands, NASA is looking for parties interested in utilizing portions of the Mississippi Army Ammunition Plant, which occupies a large tract in the north of Stennis Space Center. SSC will make all facilities available during the week of June 22-26 for site visits. (Post)

Economic development
Three new engineering companies set up shop recently at Alabama's Mobile Aeroplex, joining Safran Engineering and Airbus Engineering to form a new engineering cluster. Sonovision, Inter-Informatics and AKKA Technologies currently share some 3,500 square feet of space.

They have a total of five people between them, but are expected to grow over time and might move to a larger location at the complex. All of this is occurring because of the Airbus assembly line that is nearing its opening. The assembly line will build A320 family aircraft beginning this summer. (Post)

Lockheed Martin Space System Co., Sunnyvale, Calif., was awarded a $735.5 million contract for sustainment of the Advanced Extremely High Frequency (AEHF), Milstar, and Defense Satellite Communications System III. Work will be performed in California and Colorado, and is expected to be complete by Nov. 30, 2015. Core propulsion subsystem work on the AEHF was done at Stennis Space Center, Miss. … Lockheed Martin Integrated Systems Inc., Bethesda, Md., was awarded a $12.5 million contract modification for an extension of the Next Generation Technical Services (NGTS) III requirement. The scope of this effort contains the management and technical support necessary to advance high performance computing services, capabilities, infrastructure, and technology. Work will be done at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio; Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md.; Stennis Space Center, Miss.; Vicksburg, Miss.; and Lorton, Va., with an estimated completion date of July 19, 2015.

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