6 months ago

Huntsville-managed SLS program gets major boost; 2024 Moon mission closer to realization

NASA on Wednesday announced that it has officially taken the next steps toward the mission that will carry the first woman and next man to the Moon by 2024.

The agency is now committing to build Space Launch System (SLS) rocket core stages to support as many as 10 Artemis missions.

To accomplish this, NASA intends to work with Boeing, the current lead contractor for the core stages of the rockets that will fly on the first two Artemis missions, for the production of SLS rockets through the next decade.

The SLS program is managed out of Marshall Space Flight Center for NASA, while Boeing’s Huntsville-based Space and Launch division manages the company’s SLS work. SLS is the most powerful rocket in world history and the only rocket that can send the Orion spacecraft, astronauts and supplies to the Moon in a single mission.

“We greatly appreciate the confidence NASA has placed in Boeing to deliver this deep space rocket and their endorsement of our team’s approach to meeting this unprecedented technological and manufacturing challenge in support of NASA’s Artemis program,” Jim Chilton, senior vice president of Boeing’s Space and Launch division, stated.

Tuesday’s announcement confirmed that NASA has provided initial funding and authorization to Boeing to begin work toward the production of the third core stage and to order targeted long-lead materials and cost-efficient bulk purchases to support future builds of core stages.

This action allows Boeing to manufacture the third core stage in time for the 2024 mission, Artemis III, while NASA and Boeing work on negotiations to finalize the details of the full contract within the next year. The full contract is expected to support up to ten core stages and up to eight Exploration Upper Stages (EUS).

“It is urgent that we meet the President’s goal to land astronauts on the Moon by 2024, and SLS is the only rocket that can help us meet that challenge,” NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine said in a statement.

“These initial steps allow NASA to start building the core stage that will launch the next astronauts to set foot on the lunar surface and build the powerful exploration upper stage that will expand the possibilities for Artemis missions by sending hardware and cargo along with humans or even heavier cargo needed to explore the Moon or Mars,” he added.

The core stage is the center part of the rocket that contains the two giant liquid fuel tanks. Towering 212 feet with a diameter of 27.6 feet, it will store cryogenic liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen and all the systems that will feed the stage’s four RS-25 engines. It also houses the flight computers and much of the avionics needed to control the rocket’s flight.

(NASA/MSFC)

Boeing’s current contract includes the SLS core stages for the Artemis I and Artemis II missions and the first EUS, as well as structural test articles and the core stage pathfinder.

The imminent new contract is expected to realize substantial savings compared to the production costs of core stages built during the design, development, test and evaluation phase by applying lessons learned during first-time builds and gaining efficiencies through bulk purchases.

“NASA is committed to establishing a sustainable presence at the Moon, and this action enables NASA to continue Space Launch System core stage production in support of that effort to help bring back new knowledge and prepare for sending astronauts to Mars,” John Honeycutt, SLS program manager at Marshall, explained.

“SLS is the only rocket powerful enough to send Orion, astronauts and supplies to the Moon on a single mission, and no other rocket in production today can send as much cargo to deep space as the Space Launch System rocket,” he concluded.

Wednesday’s news was met with a celebratory tweet by Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL), a champion for space exploration.

For the first three Artemis missions, the SLS rocket will use an interim cryogenic propulsion stage to send the Orion spacecraft to the Moon. The rocket is designed to meet a variety of mission needs by evolving to carry greater mass and volume with a more powerful EUS. The EUS is an important part of Artemis infrastructure needed to send astronauts and large cargo together, or larger cargo-only shipments, to the Moon, Mars and deep space.

NASA plans on to use the first EUS on the Artemis IV mission, and additional core stages and upper stages will support either crewed Artemis missions, science missions or cargo missions.

“The exploration upper stage will truly open up the universe by providing even more lift capability to deep space,” Julie Bassler, the SLS Stages manager at Marshall, advised. “The exploration upper stage will provide the power to send more than 45 metric tons, or 99 thousand pounds, to lunar orbit.”

The SLS rocket, Orion spacecraft, Gateway and Human Landing System are part of NASA’s backbone for deep space exploration. Work is well underway on both the Artemis I and II rockets, with core stage assembly nearly complete at Michoud in New Orleans.

Soon, the stage will be shipped to NASA’s Stennis Space Center near Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, where it will undergo Green Run testing, an integrated test of the entire new stage that culminates with the firing of all four RS-25 engines. Upon completion of the test, NASA’s Pegasus barge will take the core stage to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida where it will be integrated with other parts of the rocket and Orion for Artemis I. Boeing also has completed manufacturing most of the main core stage structures for Artemis II.

“Together with a nationwide network of engaged and innovative suppliers we will deliver the first core stage to NASA this year for Artemis I,” Boeing’s Chilton concluded. “This team is already implementing lessons learned and innovative practices from the first build to produce a second core stage more efficiently than the first. We are committed to continuous improvement as they execute on this new contract.”

North Alabama also will play a leading role in other components of Artemis, including with the lunar Gateway and the new Human Landing System. Historic contributions to America’s space prowess are being made by several private sector partners in the Yellowhammer State, such as United Launch Alliance (ULA), Boeing and Dynetics.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

55 mins ago

Alabama community colleges donate medical supplies to those fighting COVID-19

Community colleges across Alabama, many of which house nursing programs, are donating their medical equipment to those on the front lines of the fight against the coronavirus.

According to a release from the Alabama Community College System (ACCS), many campuses across Alabama have equipment for their “simulated healthcare settings” where students train for medical careers.

“We are grateful for the daily sacrifice of Alabama’s healthcare providers and are grateful we can do our part to help serve our communities during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Jimmy Baker, chancellor of the ACCS.

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The equipment donated includes much sought-after ventilators that can help treat the most serious coronavirus cases.

The community colleges also handed out their supply of Personal Protective Equipment like masks to cover the face to local hospitals.

“Much like our efforts to meet the needs of every student that crosses our paths, our colleges work every day to help meet the needs of the communities they serve,” added Baker.

“On behalf of the Alabama Department of Public Health, I am grateful for the willingness of the Alabama Community College System to grant the urgent request for the loan of their available ventilators in response to the COVID-19 pandemic,” commented State Health Officer Scott Harris.

“We are continually encouraged by the number of entities across the state that are rising to the occasion to meet the needs of the citizens of Alabama,” Harris concluded.

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95.

1 hour ago

Aderholt: Implement ‘Buy America’ policies to secure medical, pharmaceutical supply chains

Congressman Robert Aderholt (AL-04) on Wednesday is set to send a letter to President Donald Trump advocating for additional “Buy America” requirements as the nation deals with the ongoing coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Aderholt is known nationally as a staunch supporter of Trump’s “America First” trade agenda, especially when it comes to manufacturing. The congressman previously stated, “This president has stood up more for manufacturing jobs in Alabama and across the country — not just Alabama — than any president.”

Now, as the coronavirus pandemic continues to shape American life, Aderholt is urging the president to use his full authority under existing law to strengthen Buy America policies when it comes to the manufacturing of medical supplies and pharmaceutical ingredients.

Aderholt’s letter to Trump as follows:

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I appreciate the work your administration has done to address the health security threat posed by the COVID-19 virus. This global pandemic has highlighted the risk Americans face from an overreliance on imported products in securing public health.

This virus, which originated in Wuhan, China, has rapidly spread across the globe with over 1.4 million cases confirmed according to Johns Hopkins University. With China producing significant quantities of the world’s medical supplies and active pharmaceutical ingredients, this centralization of global supply imposes significant health security risks should U.S. access be threatened or interrupted. Through China’s actions to hide the severity of the outbreak in their country, it is clear that they do not take their responsibility to international partners seriously.

While it is important to support our international allies in confronting this pandemic, we must prevent foreign control over the supply and price of health-related commodities in the United States. In order to assure an uninterrupted supply, it is critical to encourage the development of enough domestic capacity to avoid placing the lives of Americans in the hands of foreign suppliers.”

Buy America policies create demand for domestically produced goods, helping to sustain and grow domestic manufacturing and the millions of jobs it supports without additional spending. Americans expect that their taxpayer dollars will be used to purchase high-quality products produced in America by American workers and the businesses that employ them, not help China grow its domestic industry while enabling the collapse of U.S. manufacturing.

I encourage the use of existing authority to implement additional Buy America requirements for federal procurement of medical supplies and active pharmaceutical ingredients, helping use taxpayer- financed purchases to rebuild our public health industrial base in support of our national security.

RELATED: Keep up with Alabama’s confirmed coronavirus cases, locations here

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

2 hours ago

AlabamaWorks surveying businesses on workforce impacts of COVID-19

AlabamaWorks on Wednesday announced a new way for Yellowhammer State businesses to report how they continue to be affected by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

The Alabama COVID-19 Workforce Response Survey is designed to help policymakers fully understand the impact of this pandemic on the state’s workforce, as well as provide a clear path forward for businesses, industry and state government when determining the future focus of workforce in the state.

Responses to the survey will be accepted through Tuesday, April 21 at 5:00 p.m. CT. All Alabama businesses are highly encouraged to participate as the responses will help to protect the state’s workforce, manage the impact of COVID-19 and guide allocation of various resources.

“I am grateful to the Alabama Workforce Council for developing and deploying this much needed and user-friendly survey,” Governor Kay Ivey said in a statement.

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“As we work together to combat COVID-19’s impact, this tool will allow us to identify the needs of business and industry, resources that can help them and how we can best support Alabama’s businesses owners and hardworking Alabamians and their families,” the governor added.

The official survey can be completed here.

“While these are challenging times, we fully understand that now, more than ever, business and industry leaders must continue to work together with Governor Ivey’s administration and various state agencies to move us all forward together,” stated Alabama Workforce Council Chairman Tim McCartney. “Rest assured there is an unwavering commitment to do everything we can to minimize the negative impact COVID-19 has on our businesses, our economy, the state and all of its citizens. Using the results from this survey, I know we can all make a difference in combating the challenges from this pandemic facing so many throughout Alabama.”

You can up with the latest coronavirus-related information from AlabamaWorks here.

RELATED: State of Alabama launches online coronavirus response hub — ‘We are all in this together’

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

3 hours ago

Price of gas plummets as Alabamians stay home

Prices for a gallon of gasoline across Alabama have plummeted amid a glut of supply from overseas coupled with a lack of customers due to coronavirus precautions.

According to data collected by AAA, the average price of a gallon of regular unleaded in Alabama was $1.689 on Wednesday, the lowest since 2016, and one of the lowest prices for the state in the last 15 years.

United States consumers went through 6,659,000 barrels of gas per day during the week ending March 27, a 37% decrease from the same week one year earlier and the lowest weekly number since the 1990s.

That number is expected to fall further, as more states have enacted “shelter-in-place” and “stay-at-home” orders since the most recent data was tabulated.

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J. Bart Fletcher, head of the Petroleum & Convenience Marketers of Alabama, an industry group, told Yellowhammer News over the phone that he has had many conversations with the convenience store owners that comprise his organization.

“I’m hearing anywhere from 20-40% drop in retail volume across the state,” he said when asked about how the coronavirus precautions were affecting sales.

According to Fletcher, rural stations are seeing less of a dropoff in sales than urban stores.

In addition to the drop in travelers caused by coronavirus precautions, oil prices have been subjected to a feud between Russia and Saudia Arabia, two of the largest oil-producing countries.

Saudia Arabia, in early March, reduced the prices of its crude oil output in an attempt to undercut Russian prices and gain dominance on the international market.

Russia, unfazed, proceeded apace with their oil production, resulting in an increased drop in prices for most customers around the world.

A meeting to potentially end the feud was postponed late last week.

“The issues we’ve seen with Saudi Arabia and Russia … is really the primary reason for the lowering of the retail gasoline prices,” Fletcher told Yellowhammer.

“Like any other product, the wholesale price determines what the retail price will be,” he added.

Fletcher said the convenience stores across Alabama are worried about “maintaining an adequate supply of employees,” which he says is a challenge faced by retailers across the state.

“My members are installing plexiglass between their retail clerks and their customers,” said Fletcher when asked how stores are adapting to these times of crisis.

Fletcher promised that his members will stay open and ready to serve across the state “so that people can keep on with their lives to the best degree possible.”

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95.

5 hours ago

Ed Farm hires Waymond Jackson as CEO of the Apple initiative in Alabama

Ed Farm has hired Waymond Jackson Jr. as its first CEO.

Short for “education farm,” the tech-focused education and workforce development initiative backed by Apple and the Alabama Power Foundation is already showing its value in the COVID-19 crisis. Jackson told Alabama NewsCenter he is looking at ways Ed Farm can build on its current work and what it looks like after the pandemic.

“Ed Farm, I think the program itself, could not have come at a better time,” he said. “When you think about the mission of that organization or what the program talks about – digital learning skills, equipping teachers with new-age technology for digital, transformative learning. You think about what’s occurring now with school not being in and you’re having to shift to a digital learning environment. A lot of the programming that exists at Ed Farm right now is set up to help in that way.”

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Waymond Jackson named CEO of Ed Farm from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

Although Ed Farm was announced Feb. 27, one of its key programs, Teacher Fellows, spent more than a year prior to that equipping teachers in the Birmingham City Schools system to provide innovative approaches to the classroom, including distance learning.

As CEO, Jackson will be in charge of managing and developing external partnerships, recruiting funding partners, overseeing Ed Farm program expansion and launching a global education technology accelerator in Birmingham and beyond.

He expects Ed Farm to emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic with a great story to share with the world. In fact, discussions of where Ed Farm goes after COVID-19 are taking place with Apple and others.

“One of the things that’s been talked about with Ed Farm is this idea of having a global education technology accelerator right here in Birmingham that will bring people from all across the world to launch education technology here,” Jackson said. “When you think about the response that needs to come next, this is the perfect time for entrepreneurs and educators and individuals who have a passion for education, who have a passion for increasing education aptitude in not only urban areas, but in rural areas, to come together in an accelerator type of environment to look at those ideas that need to be in place to advance education now and education in the future.”

Apple CEO Tim Cook, an Alabama native, was in Birmingham for Ed Farm’s launch in February.

“The Ed Farm is about clearing a path for anyone – of any age, background or interest – whether or not they’re destined for a career in technology,” Cook said at the launc. “This is the culmination of a lot of hard work, of a strong vision for the future, of the tireless advocacy of educators, students and Birmingham leaders. With the team we’ve built here, with the Birmingham community, and with an abiding faith in education’s power as a ‘great equalizer’ – I’m grateful to walk this path together, and I can’t wait to see where it leads.”

Apple’s Community Education Initiative has given Ed Farm hardware, software, funding and professional learning support. The program will use Apple’s Everyone Can Code curriculum, which is being used in more than 5,000 schools around the world.

Adding Jackson as CEO is another key part of Ed Farm’s foundation, officials said.

“Waymond has the leadership skills and industry knowledge necessary for advancing Ed Farm’s mission,” said Anthony Oni, chairman of Ed Farm. “His workforce development experience aligns perfectly with our need to connect learners to the education, technology and support they need to enter the workforce prepared to lead and compete globally.”

Deon Gordon, president and CEO of TechBirmingham, said Jackson steps into the new job with a keen understanding of Ed Farm.

“Waymond has been a part of our efforts to elevate Ed Farm and deepen our region’s relationship with Apple practically since the beginning,” he said. “He is board chairman of TechBirmingham and I’m super excited to see the impact both organizations will continue to make through our partnership and due to his leadership as we grow and scale.”

Before joining Ed Farm, Jackson was senior vice president of Public Policy for the Birmingham Business Alliance, where he earned a national reputation for advancing workforce development initiatives. Most notably, Jackson founded OnBoard Birmingham and the Talent Recruitment Project – the Birmingham Business Alliance’s first early talent retention and recruitment program.

“This is a great leadership opportunity for Waymond and a natural progression for him following the work he has done at the Birmingham Business Alliance in workforce development and public policy,” said Fred McCallum, interim president and CEO of the BBA. “Because the BBA is currently looking for a new CEO, Waymond’s position won’t immediately be filled. The BBA is fortunate to have in place an experienced team in public policy, talent attraction and community development to ensure a seamless transition for our Investors and community partners.”

Jackson is excited about his new role.

“I’m honored to have the opportunity to lead this organization, to work with the team that’s at the Ed Farm, to work with the great board members that are there and the strong corporate partners that we have right now in Apple and Alabama Power,” Jackson said.

Jackson will help lead Ed Farm as it scales beyond its pilot programs.

“The beauty about Ed Farm and how it is set up now is Birmingham is just the tip of the iceberg for this initiative,” he said. “This is something that has been pitched as being here in Birmingham, but having a global reach, a global impact. So we’re well underway in thinking through what that looks like.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)