Turner Construction Completes Work on Torch Technologies Integration and Prototyping Center

Turner Construction has completed work on Torch Technologies’ Technology Integration and Prototyping Center.

The $10 million facility at 4050 Chris Drive in Huntsville is part of Torch Technologies’ growing campus in South Huntsville and consists of a 35,000-square-foot, two-story office space with an attached 10,000-square-foot high-bay facility. It incorporates offices, labs and open vertical spaces where large pieces of equipment can be installed and tested.

Torch Technologies continues to invest in its South Huntsville campus, supporting the City of Huntsville’s efforts to redevelop South Huntsville, a once vibrant area of town that is seeing an increase in development.

The new Technology Integration and Prototyping Center is located across the street from the Freedom Center, a project Turner completed in 2017 that included the renovation of a 40,000-square-foot, four-story building at 4090 South Memorial Parkway to create Torch Technologies’ current headquarters.

“Our previous experience building defense and aerospace facilities in Huntsville and elsewhere made us ideally suited for this project,” said project executive Lee Holland of Turner’s Huntsville office. “We’re very pleased to continue our partnership with Freedom Real Estate & Capital and Torch Technologies and to help in the continued revival of South Huntsville.”

Collaborating with Turner on the project were Matheny Goldmon Architects AIA; 4Site (civil engineering and landscape architecture); SSOE (mechanical and electrical engineers); and PEC Structural Engineering.

“Having worked with Turner in the past on the construction of the Freedom Center, we knew the outstanding quality of work that the company is capable of delivering,” said Bill Roark of Torch Technologies and Freedom Real Estate. “Our Technology Integration and Prototyping Center will enable Torch to take on more complex projects than before, including developing instruments to advance warhead testing.”

Raytheon, United Technologies ‘Merger of Equals’ Creates Defense-Aerospace Giant

Raytheon and United Technologies have announced an all-stock agreement the two companies call a merger of equals.

It will also create the defense-aerospace giant Raytheon Technologies with an expected $74 billion in annual sales, second only to Boeing’s $101 billion. The transaction website is www.futureofaerospacedefense.com.

Both companies have a significant presence in Huntsville. 

“Today is an exciting and transformational day for our companies, and one that brings with it tremendous opportunity for our future success,” said Tom Kennedy, Raytheon chairman/CEO. “Raytheon Technologies will continue a legacy of innovation with an expanded aerospace and defense portfolio supported by the world’s most dedicated workforce.

“With our enhanced capabilities, we will deliver value to our customers by anticipating and addressing their most complex challenges, while delivering significant value to shareowners.”

The merger of Raytheon, a leading defense company, and United Technologies, a leading aerospace company, comprised of Collins Aerospace and Pratt & Whitney, will offer a complementary portfolio of platform-agnostic aerospace and defense technologies.

“The combination of United Technologies and Raytheon will define the future of aerospace and defense,” said Greg Hayes, United Technologies chairman/CEO. “Our two companies have iconic brands that share a long history of innovation, customer focus and proven execution. By joining forces, we will have unsurpassed technology and expanded R&D capabilities that will allow us to invest through business cycles and address our customers’ highest priorities. Merging our portfolios will also deliver cost and revenue synergies that will create long-term value for our customers and shareowners.”

Raytheon plans to consolidate its four businesses into two businesses: Intelligence, Space & Airborne Systems and Integrated Defense & Missile Systems. The new businesses will join Collins Aerospace and Pratt & Whitney to form the four businesses of Raytheon Technologies.

Hayes will be named CEO of Raytheon Technologies and Kennedy will be appointed executive chairman. Hayes will assume the role of chairman and CEO two years after closing. 

A Driving Force for Local Entrepreneurs, Urban Engine Turns 4

Called a “driving force” for entrepreneurs, Urban Engine is at the forefront of innovation in the area.

Known for hosting its weekly co-working nights, Urban Engine is more than a social platform, it is a springboard for ideas and a cultural movement that resonates with our growing community of innovators, founders, and leaders.

Housed in Huntsville West, the former West Huntsville Elementary School and now a home to start-up businesses, Urban Engine helps to develop high-growth potential businesses and generate the workforce needed to support these endeavors.

And Urban Engine has a lot to celebrate: Four years of a solid upward growth trajectory.

And what better way to celebrate than to host a catered party in the “lunchroom” at Huntsville West and to invite hundreds of sponsors, startup success stories, the local community, and of course, the Mayor.

The fourth anniversary event highlighted Urban Engine’s success story.

Starting off small, Urban Engine began with programs and resources for those who are interested in technological innovation. Since then, there have been more 200 Co-Working Nights, 37 Founder Stories have been shared, more than 1,000 collaborative learning workshops have been presented, and nearly 100 new business ideas have been propelled forward.

Since 2016, more than 20 startups have been supported by Urban Engine and close to 10,000 people have benefited from its programming and services.

“It’s been great, celebrating four years at Huntsville West,” said Urban Engine founder Brendon Malone. “In 2015, I had a dream to give back to the city, to give businesses the best possible start, and to offer classes. We hit the ground running.

“There are now 175 people working in this building that are partners with Urban Engine, in support of the business ecosystem.”

Ashley Ryals, Demetrius Malone, Mayor Tommy Battle, Toni Eberhart, Sameer Singhal. (Photo by Steve Babin)

When introducing Urban Engine Director Toni Eberhart, Demetrius Malone, Huntsville West’s community manager, said, “Always in the best possible mood, one of the most supportive and encouraging people, Toni is our dreamer, a cheerleader, and a good friend to many.”

As she took the stage, Eberhart laughed and said, “I didn’t know how great I was until Demetrius spoke.”

Eberhart saluted the sponsors of the not-for-profit organization, saying “it would not be possible without our partners.”

“Our sponsors are in front of the Urban Engine community saying that they believe in doing business with startups, that they invest in professional development and growth opportunities for our workplace to keep them on the edge of innovation and that they value the Urban Engine as a critical partner in cultivating a desirable culture and climate for startups to launch and grow. How it’s made an impact would not be possible without the support of sponsors, Intuitive Research Technology, Brandon Kruse, and the team.”

She said Huntsville’s environment is conducive to businesses flourishing.

“People ask me, ‘Why Huntsville?’ I believe it’s because anything is possible here,” Eberhart said. “The landscape is totally open to incredible things. Businesses can launch and grow and do things in our local market that would be so difficult to break into on the coasts.

“Investment opportunities are possible. Educational opportunities are possible; career changes are possible, and everyone here is Ultra-supportive. Urban Engine is a cheerleader for these possibilities, and it is how we propel ideas forward at the core.”

Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle delivered the keynote address to a packed audience.

“We have seen the vision, the driving force, making it a reality,” said Battle. “We need to make sure our city thinks outside the box. We are a city on the move, with 25,000 jobs added over the last year. 15,000 of those have been in high tech.

“The end result is that you’ve made this count. We’re more competitive, there’s more jobs, thank you for the job you are doing. Huntsville is a place that’s made for the future. The job we do today sets us up for the next 10 years. What you’re doing today will be the technology of tomorrow.”

For more information, visit www.UrbanEngine.org

Aerojet Rocketdyne Opens State-of-the-Art Propulsion Facility in Huntsville

Huntsville can expect up to 600 new jobs according to Gov. Kay Ivey, thanks to Aerojet Rocketdyne’s opening of a 136,000 square-foot rocket propulsion advanced manufacturing facility.

Dignitaries cut the ceremonial ribbon at Aerojet Rocketdyne’s 136,000 square-foot rocket propulsion advanced manufacturing facility. (Photo by Jonathan Stinson)

“Between the capabilities of the Alabama workforce and your company’s innovation, our possibilities seem limitless,” Ivey said. “Aerojet’s continued expansion of its location in Huntsville will bring more than 600 new jobs and it clearly demonstrates their confidence in the Rocket City and the State of Alabama.”

In addition to Ivey and Aerojet Rocketdyne CEO Eileen Drake, many senior Alabama officials were on hand for a ribbon-cutting Friday, including Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle, Madison County Commission Chairman Dale Strong, U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks and State Director of Commerce Greg Canfield.

The facility is at 7800 Pulaski Pike and will produce products such as solid rocket motor cases and other hardware for the Standard Missile-3, Thermal High Altitude Arial Defense System and other U.S. defense and space programs.

It has also been designed for new program opportunities including hypersonic and the U.S. Air Force’s next-generation Ground Based Strategic Deterrent program. 

Aerojet Rocketdyne CEO Eileen Drake addresses the crowd during the company’s ribbon cutting ceremony for its rocket propulsion advanced manufacturing facility.

“The AMF provides Aerojet Rocketdyne the capabilities we need to advance our nation’s security today and the further technologies that will allow us to meet the challenges of tomorrow,” Drake said.

In his remarks, Battle recounted some of the conversations he and Drake had about her vision for the company to be an employer of choice in its field and how Huntsville could play a role and work collaboratively with them to make that happen.

“Aerojet Rocketdyne has invested many, many times into this community,” Battle said. “And, as they have invested, their name is out there as an employer of choice.

“… Many of you don’t know, but this building was built by the Industrial Development Board of the Chamber of Commerce and it was built by that group for Aerojet Rocketdyne so we could make a facility here that would be second to none.”

The manufacturing facility is a continuation of growth by Aerojet Rocketdyne in the area. The company made Huntsville its headquarters for a new Defense Business Unit in 2016 and opened a 122,000 square-foot defense headquarters facility June 6. 

Drake cited Huntsville’s technical workforce of engineers and scientist, along with its close proximity to the company’s key customer base and government partners as making the city an ideal location for the Defense Business Unit.

“I still have the personal letter Mayor Tommy Battle sent me that said ‘Eileen, how about a rocket headquarters in the Rocket City. Think Big,’” Drake said. “I think we’ve thought big and we’ve kept our promise.”

Aerojet Rocketdyne’s new 136,000 square-foot Advanced Manufacturing Facility will produce advanced propulsion products such as solid rocket motor cases and other hardware for critical U.S. defense and space programs. (Aerojet Rocketdyne Photo)

Ribbon-Cutting Held for ‘New’ BRC

Ribbon-cuttings aren’t unusual in Huntsville these days given the city’s growth.

But the company’s namesake and the local employees at Bevilacqua Research Corp. put a new twist on the standard photo opportunity.

There were no bulldozers filling the background, no shovels and hard hats for props on a hot June afternoon. This was about celebrating a leap forward of innovative technology for a company that has been in business for 27 years on Corporate Drive just off Wynn Drive near University Drive.

BRC CEO Dr. Andy Bevilacqua; BRC President/COO “Buck” Buchanan; Chamber Chair Kim Caudill Lewis; with Microwave Dave in background. (Photo by Steve Babin)

“It’s a new BRC,’’ said Dr. Andy Bevilacqua, who, like the other employees, was wearing a Bevilacqua Artificial Intelligence Pit Crew, shirt. “We’ve been a quiet company for so long, and we felt it was time to let everyone know who we are. We now have the patents to do it.’’

The Huntsville-Madison County Chamber of Commerce hosted the event. Chamber Chair Kimberly Caudill Lewis emceed with appearances by Harrison Diamond representing Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle and Tiffany Noel standing in for U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks.

BCR develops technology and engineering for the nation’s Department of Defense and NASA, among other federal agencies. BRC trumpets itself as a leader in research, development, test and evaluation in fields including: Artificial Intelligence (AI); human cognition and machine learning; cyber security; and intelligence and reconnaissance.

Dr. Bevilacqua said now that “three of four’’ patents have been secured BRC is seeking partners or investors. He stressed one endeavour in particular — a pair of glasses that can enhance cognitive processes.

“Some of the technology can literally change the world,’’ he said.

Dynetics Opens State-of-the-art Manufacturing Facility

Dynetics expanded its footprint in Cumming Research Park Thursday with the opening of the Dr. Stephen M. Gilbert Advanced Manufacturing Facility.

The 78,000 square-foot manufacturing and assembly facility is named for one of the company’s co-founders. 

The state-of-the-art Gilbert Advanced Manufacturing Facility joins a Solutions Complex and the Dynetics Technical Solutions headquarters as the sixth building on the sprawling Dynetics campus. The new high mix/low volume production area is expected to hire more than 200 employees.

“We kept hearing that there was not a one-stop-shop where a project could be designed, prototyped and manufactured,” said Dynetics CEO David King. “We decided to put our mark on this ability … we are now able to accept the challenge from concept analysis and development through testing and production.”

The new facility offers five major production areas.

The first is a family of reconfigurable, short and long-range surveillance sensors for real-time situational awareness of critical infrastructure known as GroundAware.

In the automotive configuration and test equipment area, customers can develop vehicle testers and ship them to vehicle plants where they can be configured to test the electronics in a variety of vehicular models as they progress down the assembly lines.

New electronics manufacturingcapabilities will improve efficiency and cut by weeks, the production time a suite of avionics products and printed circuit boards can be built.

Additionally, skilled technicians and engineers can provide and test cable harness solutionsfor aerospace and defense partners; and in the final product assembly of large and small systems area, Dynetics can now bring together electrical and mechanical components, and build complete systems in a single production area. 

The expanded manufacturing capabilities will increase current production volume while also offering classified manufacturing; and government and industry customers can now complete final assembly and test for a wide variety of Dynetics products from small system components to full weapon systems. 

“I am incredibly proud of our team for having the foresight to create a facility that will be unique and adaptable to our customers’ needs,” said King. “For years, we have wanted to fill a manufacturing niche where we can provide a smaller quantity of products while getting them into market in an efficient manner.

“Once we knew that we could provide a different level of service, we seized the opportunity. Our customers have been seeking this capability and Dynetics is glad to offer it.”

Electronic Express Opens First Huntsville Location

Hoping to fill a void in South Huntsville, Electronic Express recently opened its first store in the city in Jones Valley.

“Our philosophy is ‘We Make it Happen’,” said operations manager Haley Harville. “We have had a store in Decatur for five years, but we are currently expanding into Huntsville and Florence.

“We opened this store in Huntsville because it is a prime market for home and auto electronics on the south side of town. You no longer have to drive across town to find a large selection and best prices.”

The Nashville-based electronics and home furnishings retailer is next to Target on Carl T. Jones Drive.

According to Harville, the company sets itself apart from popular big-box electronics stores by putting a strong focus on the home, mobility and lifestyle.

She said Electronic Express fills the void between merchandise in a big-box electronics stores; car stereo stores; a home and office furnishings store; and national home improvement chains.

In addition to computers, TV and home theatre, cellphones, gaming devices, and security systems, Electronic Express also carries home exercise equipment; Yetis and Orcas; outdoor grills, smokers and fryers; car stereo systems and GPS devices; furniture and brand name mattresses; and major household appliances.

Electronic Express has opened its first store in Huntsville. (Photos by Steve Babin)

“We are not a discount store, but customers will find our prices 10 to 20 percent less than most competitors, and we will price-match any well-known competitor’s prices,” Harville said. “So, if you’re at another store and want to see if you can find it at a better price, you can call us to compare, then swing by to pick it up.”

She said, as a regional retailer, the company’s goal is being able to provide the community with the best prices possible on name brand merchandise by Frigidaire, LG, Samsung, Whirlpool, Ashley and Sealy, to name a few.

Visit electronicexpress.com.

Urban Engine Discussion Focuses on Unique Challenges Faced by Women in Business

The Rocket City is known for its high-tech, digital-driven businesses and engineering.

But, if you’re a woman in those industries, there are challenges that male counterparts don’t have to face.

So, Urban Engine Executive Director Toni Eberhart stepped in to help women answer those challenges with a panel discussion called “Her-Story.”

“We decided to do a panel discussion for Women’s History Month which featured women who were making waves,” Eberhart said. “The panel was designed to open the discussion of the unique challenges faced by women. It was important to us to find women that were relatable and accessible.”

Founded in fall 2016, Urban Engine is a 501 (c) 3 nonprofit, small business incubator that governs, nurtures, and sustains.

“Urban Engine facilitates aspiring entrepreneurs, it’s collaboration,” Eberhart saidr. “We started a meetup and a place where people work on their side projects. It’s geared toward those interested in startups leveraged around mobile technology and software, the industry disrupters.”

The meetups soon gained momentum, and what began as a group of six to 10 people grew to 100 people and morphed into what is now known as “Coworking Night.”

The “Her-Story” event was moderated by Carly Seldon, host of “Let Me Tell You Something.”

“I’m really excited about the panel,” Seldon said. “Toni and I have worked on this. We wanted to have an honest conversation about the struggles and to be able to pass along some knowledge.”

The panelists were: Jessica Barker, entrepreneur, owner of Affluent Business Services; Joanna Broad White, government affairs liaison, Huntsville Area Association of Realtors; May Chen, computer engineer at Adtran; and Emilie Dover, owner of Rocket City Digital.

Seldon started the panel discussion by asking Chen about the challenges faced as an engineer, which, traditionally is considered a male-dominated field.

“There are (few) females in research and development or management,” Chen said. “It’s hard to have a female voice. I see myself as a capable, confident engineer.

“Customers and clients don’t see you has having the answers. Is it because I’m female? Because I’m Chinese? It’s hard not to question. I try to see things objectively and say what I think.”

Women also have to face certain “stereotypes” compared to men in the same position.

“I’ve never heard a man be referred to as ‘pushy,’” White said. “I think men lack some of the qualities women have. Men are reticent to express passion. If a woman is really jazzed or really angry about something, men are going to get uncomfortable.

“Assertiveness is valuable, and paved with passion that men will grow to appreciate. My male mentors were afraid to be assertive, which allowed me to push forward. It’s also important to back everything up with really good work.”

Climbing the ladder also brings its own set of challenges for women.

Barker brought up the “crab” effect, also known as “Crabology.”

“Something that a lot of black women know what you’re talking about,” she said. “Like a bucket of crabs, as you’re climbing up, trying to get up the ladder (out of the bucket), your friends are pulling you back down. At this point, you start to lose friends, or your friendships change.

“The problem is not limited to the black experience. How to circumvent it is to change your own mindset. Keep in mind that they (your friends) might not be in that same mindset. You can’t be talking about travel and new car purchases, you have different conversations with them and don’t bring up certain things.”

Did Someone Stifle Your Growth?

“It’s a huge reason why Rocket City Digital came into being,” said Dover. “I had several bosses who would give me more work. I would take on more jobs, more responsibilities, all along realizing I could do this for myself.

“One day I told my future partner, ‘I’m quitting. So, if we’re going to start this business, we’re going to start it today.’”

Seldon posed another question: “How do you make sure you don’t stifle someone else’s growth?”

“I’m very self-aware, my partners and I have our own strengths and weaknesses,” Dover said. ‘We strive to provide a safe, healthy, fun workplace for our employees. At Rocket City Digital, we strive to provide a workplace where you want to be there.”

What are the traits a woman needs?

“You really have to know what your passions are. You have to love STEM, or at least like it. You have to have the courage to pursue what you want,” Chen said.

“Whatever you wake up in the morning yearning to do,” said Barker. “Put your passion to a purpose. Whatever it is that’s burning inside you. Someone needs what you have the passion to do.”

What lessons are you passing on to your children?

“Make sure you find out what they are passionate about,” said Barker, a mother of four – ages 1-14. “Follow what they like to do. Let them be free to live their lives.”

White, also a mom with four children, said let the children know what is important.

“That the world doesn’t revolve around them, we are not the only things in mom’s life,” she said. “Husband, faith, friends, they are all very important. We celebrate our friend’s successes. They have them ask themselves ‘How can I make a difference? Do I have compassion?’”

“I want to make sure that my son knows that life isn’t always fair,” said Dover, mother to a 3-year-old son. “Time and dedication, it will ultimately pay off for the future.”

What about R-E-S-P-E-C-T?

“I love confrontation,” said White. “When you live in the present, it’s so important to deal with these things because they will fester. You cannot please everyone, you are not pizza. Not everyone is going to like me, but they will respect me. I just need to make sure that I back it up with good work.”

“Show them real value and you’ll be respected,” Chen said.

What would be the advice you would give your younger self?

“You need to become ‘numb” inside,’” said Dover. “Business is business and business owners see things differently. You can’t take everything personally when it comes to business. Then, it becomes a vicious cycle. Find ways to do your job better and more efficiently.”

“I have an amazing group of friends,” said Chen. “I have a lot of good friends, male, female. Find your support group, it helps.”

“Energy is not created nor destroyed,” said Barker. “Whatever you put out there is what you will get back.”

“Take a minute, stop and eat,” said White. “Nothing is as dramatic as you think. There is a time when you need to take time for yourself.”

What do you do to get motivated?

“In the office, we do slow claps,” said Dover.

“I listen to local Huntsville music, like Judy and Josh Allison on Spotify,” said White. “I nerd out about Huntsville. Stuff to keep me focused and to remind me why I am here. I also focus on big projects. Huntsville is a small pond. So, if you work hard, you’ll be a big fish really quick. Maybe things are ending for a reason. Be sure there’s a good examination, find a network.”

Barker, who listens to New Orleans jazz music to get motivated, said, “When things look bleak, I go back to my network, go to networking events, and make sure I’m staying current.”

How does one learn to say ‘No’?

“I’ve often weakened my ‘no’ by saying ‘yes,’” said Dover. “If you are doing the hard work, they will respect your ‘no.’”

“Make sure you’re personally aligned with your mission,” said White. “Develop your personal mission so you know when to say ‘no.’”

“Build relationships and rapport,” said Chen. “When I say no, they know I have a good reason.”

“To them, your ‘no’ may look like doom at first,” said Barker. “But it just might be your victory.”

For more information on Urban Engine’s Coworking Night and other programs, visit   https://www.urbanengine.org/

Huntsville, Sierra Nevada Chasing the Dream of Space-based Business

Since the launch of the International Space Station some 20 years ago, the idea of space, especially low-Earth orbit, has been as one big start-up business.

With Sierra Nevada’s Dream Chaser spacecraft jumping into the commercial resupply mission lane, the whole commercialization of space concept got very interesting for Huntsville.

If all goes as planned, the busy little Dream Chaser spacecraft will make its maiden landing at the Huntsville International Airport in 2023. It will be the first and only commercial airport licensed by the FAA for a spaceplane landing. The only other designated landing site will be Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

“There is a whole new business going on up there and people who create NASA policy like the idea of the commercialization of space,” said Lee Jankowski, senior director of Business Development for Teledyne Brown Engineering in Huntsville. He is also the program manager for the $1 million project to obtain two special FAA licenses so the Dream Chaser spacecraft can land at Huntsville International Airport.

If this sounds far-fetched, that’s what Jankowski thought too, five years ago.

While known for the business of rocketry and propulsion. Huntsville also contributes to other areas of space exploration, such as payload science analysis, operations, and integration.

Sierra Nevada rendering shows Dream Chaser docked with International Space Station

Teledyne Brown Engineering  in Huntsville has handled all science payload operations for the Space Shuttle missions for nearly 20 years. The company has a Payload Operations Control Center at Marshall Space Flight Center and the contract was renewed to manage resupply efforts and payloads to the International Space Station.

“TBE and our subcontractors understand how to plan out the science while it’s onboard; how to train for it; how to execute it; and how to get it back down to Earth to maximize its scientific return,” said Jankowski. “With the shuttle program, Teledyne Brown planned one- or two-week missions that occurred three or four times a year.

“With the space station, we are up there 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. That’s a lot of science.”

Huntsville’s Story

Jankowski believes there is a compelling story to be told for why landing the Dream Chaser in Huntsville makes sense.

“There are two different mission sets or two different orbits for Huntsville to consider,” he said. “Let’s say we have a mission that goes up from Kennedy, resupplies the space station and, when it comes down, lands in Huntsville.”

This is not an implausible scenario, he said, because the Marshall Space Flight Center has a lot of hardware flying around up there that needs to be returned.

The second mission set would be going back to Spacelab-type payload missions. Many Huntsville entities such as Marshall and HudsonAlpha already have payloads. Why not plan a return mission that is more North Alabama-centric?

Sierra Nevada rendering shows projects being offloaded from Dream Chaser on the runway.

A standalone Huntsville payload mission landing here carrying specimens, hardware, or other science can be immediately offloaded from the space vehicle and delivered pronto to the scientists, universities, and companies in this area.

So Many Possibilities

Most of the early missions will be unmanned and flown autonomously but the Dream Chaser was originally designed for a crew of at least six. The interior has been modified to better accommodate supply runs to the space station, but Sierra Nevada is still focused on getting a U.S. astronaut back to the space station on a U.S. vehicle.

“A Dream Chaser landing capability here opens up so many possibilities,” Jankowski said. “Exposure to cutting-edge concepts and, let’s say we only get one landing. We are looking at job growth. We will need processing facilities and manpower to build, operate and integrate payloads.”

For the third straight year, the Huntsville-Madison County Chamber of Commerce has sponsored a  European Space Agency competition, seeking applications for the Dream Chaser that would land in Huntsville.

“The Space Exploration Masters competition with the European Space Agency and our partner, Astrosat, a Scottish space services company, has given us a world stage for promoting our space, science and technology ecosystem,” said Lucia Cape, the Chamber’s senior vice president for economic development. “The competition has helped us raise the international profile of Huntsville not only as the home of the Saturn V and the space shuttle, but also as the space science operations center for the International Space Station and the ongoing rocket and propulsion capital for SLS and Blue Origin.”

Five years ago, Jankowski approached Madison County Commissioner Steve Haraway on how to acquire study money to determine if such a pursuit was feasible and if the airport could handle the unique spacecraft’s landing.

Haraway; County Commission Chairman Dale Strong; Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle; then-Madison Mayor Troy Trulock; Cape; and the Port of Huntsville leadership, all pulled together $200,000 in public funds to conduct a six-month feasibility study.

“The Chamber’s role in economic development includes working with local leaders and companies to position ourselves for optimal growth,” said Cape. “We’ve identified Huntsville’s space science and payload expertise as a key asset in the emerging space economy.

“Landing the Dream Chaser at Huntsville International Airport would create new opportunities for local companies as well as new capabilities for our research and development community.”

HSV Runway Testing

“In 2015, Huntsville International Airport did a landing site study (to determine) the feasibility and compatibility of landing future space vehicles (specifically the Sierra Nevada Dream Chaser),” said Kevin Vandeberg, director of operations at Huntsville International Airport. 

The main issue was whether the skid plate on the front of Dream Chaser would seriously damage the asphalt runway. Dream Chaser lands on its back two wheels but does not have a front landing tire. Instead, the nose drops down on a skid plate to bring the vehicle to a halt. 

Using heavy equipment travelling at a high rate of speed, Morell Engineering tests showed a vehicle the size of Dream Chaser would be going so fast, it would do only minimal damage to the runway, never digging into the asphalt or rutting. Sierra Nevada shipped in a real skid plate for the test and it passed with flying colors.

They also conducted preliminary environmental assessments to measure the effects of the mild sonic boom the landing will trigger, and whether it will impact nearby explosive materials.

“In January 2016, the Airport Authority received the report on the findings of the study from Morell Engineering,” said Vandeberg. “It confirmed that little structural damage is expected to occur during the landing of Dream Chaser on the airport’s asphalt runway. Upon review of this report, Huntsville International Airport determined that we would move forward with the FAA license application process.”

The $1 Million Phase II Engineering Analysis

There are two applications required by the FAA to be considered a landing designation for Dream Chaser. Huntsville International must apply for a license to operate a re-entry site. Sierra Nevada must submit an application for a license for “Re-entry of a Re-entry Vehicle Other Than a Reusable Launch Vehicle (RLV).”

“We are currently in the middle of a 2½-year engineering analysis in which we have subcontractors based at Kennedy Space Center doing most of the analyses,” said Jankowski. “Huntsville is taking a backseat to Kennedy because NASA is paying the Kennedy Space Center to do most of the required analyses. If you look at the launch schedule, Kennedy is one to two months ahead of Huntsville. Sierra Nevada gave us a heads-up to be patient and let Kennedy go first so a lot of the generic analysis needed is paid for, keeping our $1 million investment intact.”

The airport is scheduled to submit the first application to the FAA in December and the second application next January. However, the NASA buzz is that it will likely slip four or five months, and the Chamber has warned about recent proposed changes to space launch and landing permits at the federal level that could impact plans.

Altogether, it puts them a year away from final submission.

Community Engagement & Legislative Support

“We have engaged some amazing people like Congressman Mo Brooks, Senators Richard Shelby and Doug Jones, and Gov. Kay Ivey,” said Jankowski. “NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine; past-NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden; William Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for Human Exploration and Operations for NASA; and Kirk Shireman, manager of the ISS Program, are all familiar with Huntsville’s FAA status.”

“The Chamber has been actively marketing Huntsville as a landing site through local partner workshops, presentations to local industry groups and the Alabama Space Authority,” said Cape. “We also have the sponsorship of an international competition seeking ideas for using the Dream Chaser to further space exploration and economic development.

The United Nations Factor

There is an even bigger business storyline in the making – Sierra Nevada is in negotiations with the United Nations.

A couple of years ago, the company sent out a Call For Interest among U.N. members, asking if they have any potential payloads or science to fly on a two-week Dream Chaser mission.

Expecting 40 or 50 responses, Sierra Nevada received close to 175. The United Nations is working with Sierra Nevada to potentially launch missions that help Third World nations.

And Jankowski said everything is on schedule so far.

“From the day Huntsville International Airport submits the application, the FAA reserves up to 180 days to approve the license,” he said. “Once they get their license, there will be 1½-year lead-time before NASA says, ‘Huntsville has both of their FAA licenses in hand. They want a mission.’

“After that, the soonest we could get on the manifest is, I think, about 20 months, so we are probably still looking at being about 3½ years out.”

But, as everyone knows, in the realm of the business of space, that day will be here before we know it.

Abaco Expanding to Redstone Gateway

Abaco Systems, a manufacturer of embedded computing solutions, is the latest company to join the ranks of Redstone Gateway.

The company, which provides military, defense, aerospace and industrial applications, plans to relocate in the fall. Abaco has leased 37,400 square feet in 8800 Redstone Gateway, a 76,000 square-foot building under construction at Redstone Gateway, the mixed-use, class-A office park.

“We’re delighted to have identified Redstone Gateway as the location of our new headquarters,” said Rich Sorelle, president and CEO of Abaco Systems. “This new facility will provide us with much- needed additional space, and will be vital in ensuring that we can fulfill our commitments to our customers as our business continues to grow.

“I’d like to thank COPT (Corporate Office Properties Trust) for their part in making it happen.”

Redstone Gateway is being developed by COPT and Jim Wilson & Associates. As a result of this transaction, the building is 100 percent preleased.

“Abaco Systems has had a strong presence in Huntsville for over thirty years,” said COPT Chief Operating Officer Paul Adkins. “We’re thrilled that they have decided to make Redstone Gateway their home to be closer to their U.S. government contracting customers, to have access to walkable amenities, and to use new facilities as a recruiting tool.

“Their lease, along with other recent leases, highlights the value proposition of Redstone Gateway.”