Alabama’s aerospace industry takes off with dynamic developments

As the Farnborough International Airshow 2022 kicks off near London, it’s the perfect time to explore some of the exciting developments that are energizing both the present and the future of Alabama’s multi-tiered aerospace industry.

Here is a brief overview of some of these developments.

HUNTSVILLE SPACEPORT

In May, Huntsville International Airport received FAA approval to allow commercial space vehicles to land on its runway, making it the first commercial airport in the United States authorized to operate as a re-entry site for space vehicles.

The decision means Sierra Space’s Dream Chaser space plane is one step closer to landing in Huntsville, realizing a vision that city leaders set in motion beginning in 2014.

The Dream Chaser is a reusable re-entry vehicle to deliver supplies to the International Space Station as part of a NASA resupply program.

The spaceplane could begin landing in Huntsville as early as next year.

“Dream Chaser’s landing at Huntsville International Airport is part of an economic development vision that continues our legacy in space science and leverages the expertise of our workforce and the assets developed to the International Space Station,” Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle said.

The FAA’s decision positions Huntsville Airport as a potential landing point for other space-entry vehicles, according to the Huntsville Madison County Chamber.

DIGITAL HYPERSONIC PLANT

Lockheed Martin’s new facility in Courtland – known as Missile Assembly Building 4, or MAB4 – is not a typical factory. Rather, it is a “digital first” center for the development of hypersonic strike technologies.

MAB4 was designed to bring together the best advanced production processes from across the company. His team uses cutting-edge technologies including robotics, electronic foam boards, smart couple tools, artificial intelligence, augmented reality, and model-based data consumption.

Lockheed Martin declared MAB4, which open end of 2021represents an important milestone in its strategic commitment to make North Alabama the “Home of Hypersonic Strike Production.”

These weapons, flying at five times the speed of sound or faster, can intercept and destroy lightning-fast enemy missiles.

“This Lockheed Martin plant highlights the fact that important defense work is being done in Alabama, enhancing national security and protecting us all,” Secretary Canfield said.

SOLVE THE ADDITIVE PUZZLES

Additive manufacturing, or industrial 3D printing, is poised to revolutionize aircraft component manufacturing, but only if we can be sure the parts are reliable.

That’s where Auburn University’s Additive Manufacturing Research Center comes in, through its work with the FAA to improve commercial air travel by increasing the reliability of 3D-printed metal aircraft components.

The FAA said its $3 million partnership with Auburn National Center of Excellence in Additive Manufacturing (NCAME) aims to improve safety by standardizing the certification of existing and emerging structural applications of advanced materials.

NCAME researchers will help the FAA develop additive manufacturing specifications related to understanding how the microscopic characteristics of 3D printed metal affect the overall fatigue and fracture properties of parts, as well as variability issues between materials. different production platforms.

“By understanding the sources of variability, controlling for them or accounting for them, we can generate more reliable materials data and more reliable AM ​​products,” said Nima Shamsaei, Director of NCAME.

In other words, Auburn researchers will crack the code in 3D-printed parts to make them safer.

RIGONANT ROCKET ENGINES

When Blue Origin chose Huntsville as the site for their new, $200 million rocket engine factorythe spaceflight company had its sights set on the future – and the past.

Specifically, Blue Origin envisioned the resurrection of Test bench 4670 at the Marshall Space Flight Center, where NASA evaluated the engines that powered the Saturn V rocket on the Apollo program’s trip to the Moon. The 300-foot structure, commissioned in 1965, had been inactive since 1988.

Blue Origin has launched an extensive rehabilitation project to bring back into service the test bed for the BE-4 and BE-3U engines manufactured at its new plant in Huntsville. The first test could take place later this year, rekindling the roar of rocket engines residents remember from the time.

“One of the most interesting things about this whole project is the story,” said David Helderman, director of testing operations for Blue Origin in Alabama. Huntsville Business Journal in May.

“We love to build our story on the story. It’s a long and cool history of the American space program,” he added.

BE-4 engines made in Alabama by Blue Origin will power the company’s New Glenn rocket as well as United Launch Alliance’s next-generation Vulcan Centaur rocket, which will soon launch on its first mission.

ULA is building the Vulcan Centaur at the nation’s largest rocket factory in Decatur, minutes from Blue Origin’s facilities and NASA’s Huntsville testbed.

Vulcan Centaur’s future was boosted in April 2022, when Amazon has selected the ULA rocket for 38 launches support the deployment of its ambitious Project Kuiper, Amazon’s initiative to increase global broadband access through a constellation of 3,236 advanced satellites in low Earth orbit.

The 1.6 million square foot ULA factory in Decatur was the production site for the company’s Atlas V and Delta IV rockets. CEO Tory Bruno tweeted in late July that the company had orders for 70 Vulcan rockets, including eight in the production stream at Decatur.

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