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.

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