|Relativity and SSC; education growth
Sometimes, if you look closely enough you might see something that makes you go,
That’s what happened to me when I started putting together this review of important
aerospace news that occurred since the last newsletter in February.
Let me explain.
It was back in late 2011 that I wrote about the E-4 Test Facility at Stennis Space
Center, Miss., and NASA’s bid to gauge industry interest in using the under-utilized
Originally designed to conduct ground tests of propulsion systems in support of
NASA’s Rocket Based Combined Cycle program, it was only partially built.
It consists of concrete-walled test cells and associated hard stand, a high-bay work
area with a bridge crane and adjacent work area, control room space and personnel
offices. It was designed to provide low-pressure hydrocarbon fuel and oxidizer to test
articles having a thrust in the horizontal plane.
I wrote about it again in March 2012, when Engineering and Test Directorate
Associate Director John Stealey called it a “great opportunity for a commercial
company to explore partnership possibilities with NASA.”
In addition to the facilities at the site, NASA pointed out that it had road and barge
canal access and utilities, and that onsite amenities and support capabilities could be
accessed by the commercial company. What’s more, NASA said that E-4 could be
expanded to meet future requirements. OK, that’s the operative word - expanded. I’ll
get back to that in a minute.
Around this time, there were plenty of stories about NASA facilities going unused. E-4
was just one of many within the agency.
Fast forward to today. Florida’s Space Coast has had a high level of success
bringing in commercial space companies to utilize NASA facilities, and to build more
to boot. And the effort at SSC also is bearing fruit.
Los Angeles-based Relativity Space, a startup company developing small launch
vehicles using additive manufacturing technologies, has signed a Commercial Space
Launch agreement with SSC that authorizes the startup to use exclusively the E-4
Test Complex for 20 years.
Relativity has the option to expand the use of the facility from about 25 acres to 250
acres. The new agreement will help Relativity expand its test efforts, which include
the qualification and acceptance tests of up to 36 of its Terran small launch vehicles.
Relativity is under a separate Reimbursable Space Act agreement with SSC for the
use of the center's E-3 test stand, which has supported 85 tests of the firm's Aeon 1
Tim Ellis, CEO and co-founder of Relativity, said the startup will continue using E-3
while it builds up E-4, then use both facilities in parallel in the future. He said the
company will develop a single manufacturing facility that would allow it to produce the
Terran rocket, but the company hasn’t said where that facility will be located.
Now I don’t want to jump to conclusions, and you won’t find me predicting anything
here, but just imagine what Relativity could do if it expanded its 25-acre footprint 10-
fold to 250 acres. Just musing.
Another California company, Stratolaunch, founded in 2011, also has a
Reimbursable Space Act agreement with NASA and SSC.
The company is developing a giant aircraft as part of an air-launch system. It has
done some taxi tests at the Mojave Air and Space Port in California, but hasn’t yet
had its first flight.
Funded by billionaire Paul Allen, Stratolaunch's giant plane – the world's largest by
wingspan – was initially designed to carry modified versions of rockets from other
companies. Now Stratolaunch is also considering developing its own launch system.
The company hired propulsion engineers and has the Space Act Agreement with
NASA's Stennis Space Center, Miss., to use the E-1 test stand there for “testing of its
propulsion system test article element 1.”
The new aviation experience center to be built in Mobile, Ala., near the Airbus
assembly line will be named “Flight Works Alabama.”
Airbus in March showed the first architectural rendering of the facility, and said the
name reflects the different aspects of the center’s mission.
Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey announced in May 2017 the intent to build the hands-on
instructional facility, with the goal to bolster Alabama’s workforce development efforts
and inspire young people to pursue careers in aerospace.
It will be 19,000 square feet and house an interactive exhibition area, classrooms, a
collaboration room and more. It will serve as a gateway for tours of the Airbus A320
Grand opening is expected in 2019.
That kind of center, which makes learning a fun experience, adds to the Gulf Coast
region’s portfolio of science centers designed to pique the interest of youth in
science. It’s a welcome addition.
That’s not the only step on the education front. Middle school, high school and
college students near Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., will get one-on-one training from
leading professionals thanks to the expansion of a program out of Ohio.
Wright-Patterson Air Force Base’s Educational Outreach Office has reached out with
its Leadership, Experience, Growing, Apprenticeships Committed to Youth program,
providing it to the area around Eglin, Robins Air Force Base, Ga., and the United
States Air Force Academy in Colorado.
The three locations began taking applications in January with course work starting
this summer. So far, the four sites have more than 600 student applications. The
three sites were chosen for their strong STEM programs already in place.
Yes, a lot has been written about Airbus, but there’s another Mobile-based company
AeroStar said it would more than double its facility and workforce over the next
several years at the Mobile Aeroplex. The company founded in 2011 to service
commercial, commuter and military aircraft has maxed out its 6,000-square-foot
facility. It’s adding another 16,875-square-foot building next to the existing one.
The company has 22 employees and will add 28 new positions. The $2 million
investment includes land, construction costs, machinery and equipment. The
expansion will be completed before the end of 2018.
Officials in Panama City say the acquisition of GKN Aerospace in what’s called a
hostile takeover is not expected to affect the company's new manufacturing facility at
Melrose Industries secured an $11 billion takeover of the British engineering firm and
Becca Hardin, president of the Bay Economic Development Alliance, said the change
won’t impact the plant, which will start making parts this summer.
Hardin said GKN's building near Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport is
open now and equipment is being moved in. She said the 170 employees are in the
process of being hired.
Hardin said the undisclosed aviation products that will be manufactured there are
part of a long-term federal government project.
Meanwhile, in Escambia and Santa Rosa counties, another project that’s had its ups
and downs is moving forward again.
It was back in 2013 that the two counties and Navy first raised the issue of the land
swap. Escambia County wanted the Navy’s Outlying Field 8 in Beulah to use for a
commercial park, and said that in exchange it would prepare a site in Santa Rosa
County closer to Naval Air Station Whiting Field.
The Escambia County Commission recently awarded an $8 million contract to
Panhandle Grading and Paving Inc. to complete the second and final phase of
construction on the new 600-acre helicopter training field.
The Navy uses the outlying fields spread throughout the region for aviator training.
Seapower magazine reported that the Navy plans to replace the TH-57 training
helicopter with a commercially available helicopter.
Rear Adm. Scott D. Conn, the Navy’s director of air warfare, said it’s a new approach
to replace the 115 training helicopters. He told the Senate Armed Services seapower
subcommittee March 6 that the Navy would hold a competition and pick a winner to
The TH-57, derived from the Bell 206, has trained helicopter pilots for the Navy,
Marine Corps and Coast Guard since 1968. It's flown by three training squadrons at
Naval Air Station Whiting Field, Milton, Fla.