Posts

History and Future Merge with Blue Origin Engine Plant in the Rocket City

Looking back on history with an eye to the future, elected officials joined the CEOs of Blue Origin and United Launch Alliance in a ground-breaking ceremony Friday for a $200 million rocket engine manufacturing facility in Huntsville.

“We’re here to celebrate history with a vision to the future,” said Alabama Secretary of Commerce Greg Canfield at the event. Canfield was joined on the speakers’ platform by Bob Smith, CEO of Blue Origin; Tory Bruno, CEO of United Launch Alliance; Gov. Kay Ivey; U.S. Sen. Doug Jones; U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks; Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle and Madison County Commission Chairman Dale Strong.

The plant, when its doors open in 2020, is a milestone achievement in helping the United States return to space by building America’s next rocket engine.

“It’s a great day here in the Rocket City,” said Smith. “Thanks to the votes of confidence from United Launch Alliance, from the Air Force for national security missions, and from Huntsville and the state of Alabama, we are breaking ground on a facility to produce our world-class engines and power the next generation of spaceflight.”

Blue Origin was selected by ULA last September of last year to supply its next generation Blue Engine 4, or BE-4, for the first stage of ULA’s Vulcan Centaur Rocket

“It is a true marvel of engineering,” Smith said. “We will be able to end our dependence on Russian engines,” Smith said.

Calling it a “day of destiny,” Brooks said Blue Origin and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos was inspired to build rockets when he saw the movie “October Sky” in 1999. The movie was based on the book “Rocket Boys” by Huntsville resident Homer Hickam. “Blue Origin is coming to the home of the man who inspired him.”

Smith also linked Huntsville’s history of building the giant engines that took Americans to the moon to building the BE-4 engines.

“We’re in final negotiations with the Marshall Space Flight Center to test the BE-4 on Test Stand 4670, the historic site of engine tests for the Saturn V and the space shuttle,” he said.

A pair of BE-4 engines will lift the new Vulcan rockets, which are made at ULA’s plant in Decatur.

“Our rockets are going to take Americans on American soil into space,” said Bruno. “And it’s about damn time!”

Blue Origin has a launch services agreement partnership with the Air Force to use its commercial, heavy-lift New Glenn launch vehicle for national security space missions. New Glenn will be powered by seven BE-4 engines.

“This gives us a chance to design, make and test a rocket engine,” said Battle. “We will produce the greatest rocket engine in the world right here in Huntsville.”

Blue Origin’s engine production facility is the latest addition to Cummings Research Park, which is the second largest research park in the United States and fourth largest in the world.

“We are thrilled to officially welcome Blue Origin to Cummings Research Park,” said Erin Koshut, the park’s executive director. “As we like to say, the research and development happening here is driven by science and powered by people.”

The plant, which is expected to employ 300 people, is on a 46-acre site at the corner of Explorer Boulevard and Pegasus Drive.

Citing this area’s importance in U.S. space history, Strong said it’s no coincidence Blue Origin chose Huntsville.

“We have got the right people in the right place at the right time,” he said. “Welcome to the ‘Propulsion Capital of the World.’”

Cecil Ashburn Drive project to begin Jan. 7

 

The City of Huntsville is set to begin critical roadwork in early January to improve safety and increase capacity on Cecil Ashburn Drive, one of the city’s most heavily trafficked corridors.

Listed as a priority improvement project in Huntsville’s “Restore Our Roads” agreement with the Alabama Department of Transportation, contractors will widen Cecil Ashburn Drive from two to four lanes over an 18-month period.

To expedite construction and shorten the project’s timeline, Cecil Ashburn Drive will close Jan. 7, and the contractor will be incentivized to reopen two lanes of traffic within 10 months. Remaining work is expected to be complete six to eight months later with all lanes open by May 2020.

To keep the project on track or ahead of schedule, the contractor may earn up to $2 million in performance bonuses. Conversely, the builder will be financially penalized up to $2 million for schedule delays. This is the same model the City and State used to fast-track overpass construction on South Memorial Parkway, another Restore Our Roads project.

“We changed the scope of the project to save time and money and to minimize the impact on our residents and businesses,” said Mayor Tommy Battle. “This schedule provides the least disruption and gets motorists safely back on the road before the 2019 holiday season.”

The base bid on the revised project came in at just under $18 million, nearly $7 million less than a previous round of bidding last May. At that time, the city was working on a construction plan to keep one lane of traffic partially open during peak weekday hours. The plan proved to be a costly, 32-month ordeal that posed additional safety concerns. City engineers went back to the drawing board and believe the new schedule best addresses the needs and concerns of the community.

“We’re saving taxpayers millions of dollars and cutting two years of public pain in the construction process,” said Shane Davis, director of Economic and Urban Development.

To further minimize disruptions for commuters impacted by the road closure, City departments have been working closely with community organizations and businesses to address needs and concerns related to increased traffic and speeders on alternate routes, ride-sharing options, moving wrecks, accident alerts, and public safety.

“It will take everyone a few weeks to adjust to new routes and schedules, and we’ve found many businesses are pwilling to offer flex time to help their employees through the transition,” said Dennis Madsen, long-range planner. “We’ve had a lot of inquiries about carpools and ride-sharing programs, and the road closure presents an opportunity to explore these options and create some new healthy habits.”

Huntsville to Launch Mobile and Credit Card Downtown Parking Payments

The city has plans to make it easier to pay for parking in downtown Huntsville. (USNews.com)

Huntsville’s high-tech expertise takes a leap into downtown parking.

The city is adopting new technologies to make it easier for patrons to pay for parking with a smartphone and credit card. Early next year, about 400 parking spaces, including those with coin-operated meters, will be updated for easy pay by smartphone and credit card options.

This will enable users to:

  • Monitor their parking sessions
  • Extend time remotely
  • View payment history
  • Receive email receipts

“We want to make it easier for customers to pay for parking and to extend their time without the hassle of returning to a meter,” said Tommy Brown, director of Parking and Public Transit. “You can be in a meeting that is running late and add more time to your parking meter using your cell phone.”

While a coin/bill pay option will still be available when paying to park downtown, Mayor Tommy Battle said the new meter system will make it more convenient for residents and guests to enjoy Huntsville’s downtown.

“People expect to have the ease of mobile apps and credit card options when they purchase a good or service, and parking meters are no exception,” he said. “This is just one more step in the City’s effort to modernize our business practices and make us user friendly.”

Parking and Public Transit plans to begin installing the new meters around Big Spring Park and Lot H, which adjoins The Avenue.

IOS, Android and mobile web apps allow motorists to park at traditional meters without needing coins. Parkers establish a minimum $5 wallet on the app with their credit card and pay for parking from that wallet. They will enter their license plate when they park and enforcement will use the license plate to determine who has paid to park.

Drivers will receive reminder notifications, email receipts and remote session extensions that allow them to extend their parking without going back to the meter.

A single multispace meter will service parking spaces so there are fewer meters to maintain. Drivers will enter their license plate when they park and enforcement will use the license plate to determine who has paid to park. The meters allow for more flexible forms of payment such as coins, bills and credit cards.

Drivers will be able to receive parking expiry reminders and to extend time via mobile phone using the integrated Extend-by-Phone service. PassportParking is free to download through the App Store or Google Play. Users can also manage their parking at ppprk.com. The app is also available in many cities nationwide.

Facebook likes Huntsville; company to build $750 million data center

It’s the perfect connection: A digital giant and a high-tech capital.

So, when Facebook announced it was building a large-scale data center, it was no surprise. The company will invest $750 million in the center that will bring an estimated 100 high-paying jobs to the area.

“This is indeed an exciting day for this company, for this area of the state, and indeed for the entire state of Alabama,” said Gov. Kay Ivey at the Huntsville-Madison County Chamber of Commerce. “Announcements like this require positive visions and an environment where companies can grow and expand their businesses. Economic development happens because of the collaborative efforts between state and local leaders, and businesses that are attracted by all that Alabama has to offer.”

The announcement has been kept a secret since May 24 when the Huntsville City Council gave unanimous approval to Facebook’s project entity, Starbelt LLC, to purchase 340 acres in the North Huntsville Industrial Park for $8.5 million.

Surrounded by Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle, Madison County Commission Chairman Dale Strong, and other civic leaders and representatives, Matt VanderZanden, director of site selection at Facebook, said the technology giant selected Huntsville for several reasons.

“This location gives us great access to renewable energy and infrastructures, a strong talent pool and, very importantly, a tremendous set of community partners,” VanderZanden said. “Facebook data centers are terrific tools and real economic engines. Facebook is in it for the long game and we look forward to having a long, fruitful partnership with the Huntsville community.”

Battle cited the city’s innovation and high-tech reputation as a link with the digital giant.

“Facebook has built its business on connecting friends to family, businesses to customers, and people to the world,” Battle said. “This is one of the most innovative companies in the world and we’re proud to have them in one of the world’s most innovative cities.

“Huntsville is a city that constantly redefines what is possible. Facebook constantly redefines life online.”

The governor used a Facebook reference in her remarks.

“Every day, millions of people get on Facebook to connect with family and friends,” Ivey said. “I sure am glad that when Facebook was looking to grow their connections, they sent out a friend request to Alabama!”