Saturday, February 25, 2017

Week in review (2/19 to 2/25)

At the request of the Trump administration, a team has been formed to study a possible manned mission around the moon as early as next year, which would make a major speed-up of current plans for NASA's Space Launch System.

Preliminary results of the panel's review should be ready in about a month. That will determine whether it would be feasible, or even advisable, to put two astronauts inside the Orion capsule on the first test flight of the 322-foot tall Space Launch System (SLS).

Under current plans, the first unmanned orbit around the moon is slated for 2018, with a crewed flight three years later. One of the issues that will have to be addressed is that Lockheed Martin, which is building the Orion crew capsule, didn't plan to install life-support systems until the second flight.

William Hill, deputy associate administrator for Exploration Systems Development at NASA Headquarters, said major technical challenges will need to be resolved, and the agency will need more money to make it happen.

No doubt all of this will have an impact on the Gulf Coast region, where we have Michoud Assembly Facility and Stennis Space Center. Both are heavily involved in NASA's SLS program.

To read more about this, take a look at Bloomberg or CBS News.

-- NASA engineers conducted their first RS-25 test of 2017 on the A-1 Test Stand late in the week. The test of development engine No. 0528 ran the scheduled 380 seconds, allowing engineers to monitor various engine operating conditions.

Four RS-25 engines will be used to launch the first stage of the Space Launch System on its deep-space missions. The engines for the first four SLS flights are former space shuttle main engines, which were tested extensively at Stennis Space Center.

Engineers are conducting an ongoing series of tests this year for SLS on both development and flight engines for future flights to ensure the engine, outfitted with a new controller, can perform at the higher level under a variety of conditions and situations.

Stennis is also preparing its B-2 Test Stand to test the core stage for the first SLS flight with Orion, known as Exploration Mission-1. (Post)

Also at SSC, Aerojet Rocketdyne recently demonstrated the highest chamber pressure of any United States produced liquid oxygen and kerosene main combustion system. That occurred during a series of successful test firings of the AR1's staged combustion system at SSC.

Preparations for the staged-combustion testing began at Stennis last summer. During this testing, Aerojet Rocketdyne combined the engine's preburner with the main injector in order to validate injector design parameters and performance.

The AR1 engine is being developed as a replacement for Russian-made engines currently used on domestic rockets. (Post)

Meanwhile, at Cape Canaveral, Fla., SpaceX last weekend launched the first private rocket from the same historic site that saw some of NASA's greatest space missions, then landed a booster nearby in a resounding success.

The company's Falcon 9 launched a Dragon cargo capsule toward the International Space Station from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. The pad was used for Apollo and space shuttle missions. SpaceX uses Stennis Space Center to develop its next generation Raptor engine. (Post)

Dragon arrive at the space station Thursday with some 5,500 pounds of supplies and scientific experiments.

Economic development
The Bay County Commission during the week gave a thumbs up to $750,000 in incentives for GKN Aerospace Florida, which plans to open a parts manufacturing facility at Venture Crossings near Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport. The incentive funds would come from tax dollars the company would be paying into Bay County in the coming years, county officials said.

The company will be required to create at least 170 jobs at an annual wage of $63,156 in Bay County by Dec. 31, 2020, or a mutually agreeable date, and maintain each of those jobs for at least three years from the date of their creation. (Post)

For a deeper look at how this project all came about, take a look at a feature story that appeared in the News Herald. (Post)

In a move to save money, the 53rd Weapons Evaluation Group teamed up with the Naval Surface Warfare Center, Naval Support Activity Panama City, to utilize the Navy's recently-built communications tower to replace the 53rd WEG's unserviceable, outdated Gulf Range Drone Control System tower.

These towers are essential for triangulating communications for controlling unmanned drones over the Gulf of Mexico. This innovative investment took about a year to accomplish and will save hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars. Constructing a new tower would have cost an estimated $700,000, and leasing a commercial tower would cost approximately $9,000 annually. (Post)

-- With nearly 1.2 million takeoffs, landings and other operations a year, the airspace surrounding Whiting Field Naval Air Station in Northwest Florida is busier than the airspace above the airport in Atlanta. It all happens under the watchful eyes of veteran flight instructors and experienced military air traffic controllers. A feature story. (Post)

-- The chief of staff, Air Force announced the assignment of Brig. Gen. Christopher P. Azzano, commander, 96th Test Wing, Air Force Materiel Command, Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., to director, air, space and cyberspace operations, Headquarters Air Force Materiel Command, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. (Post)

Raytheon Space and Airborne Systems, McKinney, Texas, was awarded an estimated $45.5 million modification for low-rate initial production and full-rate production of the Silent Knight Radar system in support of U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM). The work will be performed in McKinney and Forest, Miss., and is expected to be completed by June 2019. The U.S. Air Force Special Operations Command, part of USSOCOM, is headquartered at Hurlburt Field, Fla.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Week in review (2/12 to 2/18)

The latest edition of the Gulf Coast Aerospace Newsletter was published Tuesday, and if you didn't get a copy, you can download the 8-page PDF here.

The newsletter has a story about one of the region’s technology goldmines, NASA’s Stennis Space Center in South Mississippi, and a redesigned portion of its website. The change is intended to make it easier for companies and individuals to find the technologies that can be developed for the public – and that’s something that can mean big bucks. (Story)

We also had a story out of Northwest Florida about Santa Rosa County's new pitch to aerospace and aviation companies. The county sits in the middle of a highly active aerospace neighborhood, and the new pitch, which includes a brochure and eventually an addition to the Santa Rosa Economic Development website, tells why it's a good choice as a home for aviation-focused companies. (Story)

The newsletter also has a story out of Mobile, Ala., about one of the aerospace companies that found Mobile County to be a great place to call home. Late last month there was a celebration at the Airbus Engineering Center marking 10 years at the Mobile Aeroplex. Airbus, in fact, has had an operation in Mobile going back a dozen years. Airbus now has some 650 workers at three separate facilities in Mobile. (Story)

We hope you enjoy our bimonthly. The next one is scheduled for April.

In other aerospace news for the Gulf Coast region:

Economic development
GKN Aerospace is locating a new manufacturing facility in Venture Crossing Enterprise Centre in Bay County, investing $50 million and providing 170 jobs. GKN, a British multinational, will lease a building that will be developed and owned by a subsidiary of The St. Joe Company.

GKN Aerospace provides components and assemblies for aerostructures, engine products, landing gear, wiring systems and special products like ice protection systems, for civil and military fixed-wing and rotary-wing platforms, and is also involved in the space market. (Post)

Workers at a Boeing plant in South Carolina rejected a drive to unionize, with almost three-quarters of workers at the aircraft factory rejecting union representation. The vote at the North Charleston plant was a high-profile test for organized labor in a strongly anti-union state.

The National Labor Relations Board said 74 percent of the 2,828 workers who cast ballots Wednesday at locations throughout the plant voted against joining the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers.

The vote is of high interest to Mobile, where Airbus operates the plant that makes A320 series jetliners. It’s clear that at some point there will be an attempt to unionize there. (Post)

Southwest Airlines will add two new non-stop flights from New Orleans’ Louis Armstrong International Airport to Raleigh-Durham, N.C., and Columbus, Ohio, beginning the weekend of April 30. The Raleigh-Durham connection will be available twice a week on Fridays and Sundays. The Columbus flight will depart once a week on Sundays. (Post)

-- The Air Force chief of staff announces the assignments of Maj. Gen. Michael T. Plehn, chief of staff, Headquarters U.S. Southern Command, Miami, Fla., to vice commander, Headquarters Air Force Special Operations Command, Hurlburt Field, Fla. (Post)

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Week in review (1/29 to 2/4)

As the saying goes, nothing in this world is certain except death and taxes. I'd offer another: consequences.

The 90-day civilian hiring freeze that the new president imposed Jan. 23, which has no impact on military personnel, is having an impact on civilians who work at federal government activities across the region. It prevents vacancies from being filled, and that means more work for those who toil away.

The Defense Department late in the week announced 16 separate functions exempt from the freeze, allowing hiring to resume across broad categories of the workforce ranging from cybersecurity specialists to depot maintenance and shipyard personnel. The exemptions are for positions deemed critical to national security and public safety.

Rep. Matt Gaetz, who represents Florida's 1st District, supports the freeze and reducing the size of the federal government. But he's concerned about how it could impact civilian employees here. He wrote a letter to the Defense Department asking for clarification. According to one report, at Eglin Air Force Base alone there are more than 360 vacant positions.

Welcome to Washington, congressman. It's pretty common to hear politicians say, yes, I'm in favor of this or that, only to realize there are consequences that might not be good for your own back yard. The devil is always in the details.

Here's your week in review:

In Alabama, Airbus Engineering Center celebrated its 10th year at the Mobile Aeroplex with a tip of the hat to its 220 workers and the major contributions they've made to the community. Site Director Dave Trent said the workers are hardworking, dedicated, tenacious and diverse, representing 25 countries. Barry Eccleston, CEO of Airbus Americas, said the engineering center is probably one of the most successful endeavors he’s been involved in. He said it exceeded his expectation. (Post)

The 53rd Weapons Evaluation Group at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., conducted boat operations in the Gulf of Mexico and the Choctawhatchee Bay late this week and will continue during the upcoming week. Each morning, fighter aircraft release munitions about 20 nautical miles south of Destin in the Gulf of Mexico. In the afternoons  about 30 boats traveling in formation will transverse between the Mid-Bay Bridge and the Highway 331 Bridge, to include 10 to 20 miles south of Destin in the Gulf of Mexico. The boat formation will be used as visual targets by military aircraft flying over the area. No weapons or ammunition will be involved with this boat formation. (Post)

-- At Fort Rucker, Ala., the Air Traffic Services Command last month welcomed the newest addition to its fleet, a new C-12S aircraft. At the same time it bid goodbye to its predecessor, a JC-12D. Col. Michael E. Demirjian, ATSCOM commander, said the new C-12S is the only one in the Army’s inventory. C-12S is a twin-engine turboprop based on the Beechcraft Super King Air and Beechcraft 1900. (Post)

High school students in Mississippi and Louisiana have been invited to participate in a pilot “swarmathon” competition to develop robotic swarms for use in space missions. The competition to develop algorithms for robotic swarms has openings for 20 area teams to compete. Teams have until Feb. 15 to enter the challenge, and their final algorithm code must be submitted by April 15. Teams must have a faculty mentor and
coach. (Post)

Pratt and Whitney Military Engines, East Hartford, Conn., was awarded an $18.8 million modification to a previously awarded contract exercising an option for supplies and services to implement engineering changes to the Rolls Royce lift fan systems, 3Bearing Swivel Module Conditioning Flow System, and production thrust recovery in support of the F-35 for the Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force and international partners. Work will be performed in Indiana and Oklahoma and is expected to be complete in December 2018.