Posts

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.

Popular Madison Lunch Spot Main Street Cafe Now Open for Dinner

MADISON — For those who don’t know, the City of Madison was once called Madison Station and it grew up around the Madison Train Depot. Sitting alongside the train tracks that still sees two trains per day, in the 1950s the building held the original City Hall and a two-cell jail.

Tony and Cindy Sensenberger renovated the depot building in 2000 and opened what has become one of Madison’s favorite lunch spots – the Main Street Café. They added a kitchen and outdoor dining area. The jail cells? Private dining rooms!

“From day one when I came here in September, some of the very first questions I got was ‘When are you guys going to open for dinner?’” said co-owner Tammy Hall. She and her husband John bought into the Main Street Café last October. “We finally got the logistics worked out and we are thankful for everyone who helped us take this journey.

Main Street Café is known for its lunch menu of salads, sandwiches, and quiche, as well as yummy chicken, pork, and fish entrees, and even an Italian flair. The new evening menu will reprise some of the lunch entrée favorites but will also feature steaks and fresh recipes for fish and pasta.

The café is also famous for its strawberry pretzel salad, which mixes layers of sweet and salty into a concoction suitable more for dessert than a salad.

“With the expansion of downtown Madison, the new Avenue Madison, the baseball team and all the people it will draw into downtown, the city wants a vibrant downtown nightlife,” said Hall. “Expanding our hours to include dinner is part of the agreement.”

At the ribbon-cutting ceremony Wednesday, Madison Mayor Paul Finley applauded the Main Street Café owners for their vision of downtown.

“Thank you for making the Main Street Café a place people can enjoy both day and night,” he said.

The new hours are 5-8 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday and 5-9 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Reservations for parties of more than five people are accepted, too.

Baseball complex, 2 more hotels coming to Town Madison

MADISON — Mayor Paul Finley made some major announcements and shared some astounding economic data Friday night at his annual State of the City Address.

Two new hotel chains, the Avid Hotel and Hilton Garden Inn, will join Home2 Suites and Margaritaville at Town Madison. Why the need for more lodging?

Because among his big announcements is the development of Pro Player Park, a 12-field baseball complex on the west side of Town Madison that is projected to generate 35,000 room nights a year!

Finley said Madison is strong and getting stronger thanks to efforts in public safety, in education, in healthcare, and in job growth.

While Finley acknowledges that the area relies heavily on the Huntsville/Madison County Chamber of Commerce to drive economic growth at the highest level, Madison, which shares both Madison and Limestone counties, is a big piece of the Tennessee Valley puzzle.

“Based on statistics compiled by UAH, in the past three years, we have created 30,000 jobs in those two counties alone!” Finley said to thunderous applause from the audience at the Davidson Center at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center. “That is a $2.6 billion economic expansion in Madison County and $6.6 billion in Limestone County, and that does not include Redstone Arsenal, which provides just under 10 percent of the state of Alabama’s gross domestic product”.

While the city itself is operating more efficiently, doing more with less expense to the taxpayer, Finley said that out of the $46 million for the Trash Pandas’ baseball stadium and $20 million for capital improvements for roads and infrastructure, the city currently has a surplus of $10 million in the bank “just in case”.

He also touted the success of Madison Hospital, which saw 55,000 visits to the emergency room last year and is on track to deliver an average of 200 babies per month in 2019. The Madison hospital has grown from 60 to 90 beds in just a couple of years.

He also called out Madison City Schools who ranked as the second-best district in the state in test scores – up from third last year.

“Every school in Madison received an ‘A’ on their report card,” said Finley. “There are only six out of 137 districts in the state who can say that, and ours is the largest to do it.”

He said the district has grown by 538 students since last year and, to put that into perspective, it equates to Madison itself becoming a 5A high school if the growth continues. They have also added two school resource officers to enhance safety and security in the schools, and the City Council budgeted more than $500,000 from the general fund to support both academics and school safety.

“Now comes the hard part,” said Finley. “We are the dog who caught the car. Now what are we going to do?”

He looks to the Launch 2035 initiative established by Huntsville’s Committee of 100 known as the Regional Collaboration of North Alabama “to ensure the successes we have had, continue for the next 10 and 15 years.”

“As leaders in this community, we have to come together to take the successes we have had, and make sure we support them with the things that are required: education, workforce development, and infrastructure.” 

A landmark groundbreaking for Madison, Duluth Trading Co.

Duluth Trading Co. will open its first Alabama retail store in Town Madison next year.

 

MADISON — It was a “less than perfect weather day but a perfect day for a groundbreaking.”

With those remarks, Madison Chamber of Commerce Board President Carmelita Palmer opened a landmark groundbreaking ceremony Friday.

The Duluth Trading Co., an innovative apparel retailer noted for its unique TV commercials (the store has a link to the commercials on is website – https://www.duluthtrading.com/TV+Ads.html) will open a 15,000-square-foot retail store in the city’s Town Madison development.

“We are so excited,” said Madison Mayor Paul Finley. “To have Duluth come here … when people heard Duluth Trading was coming here, there is so much excitement.”

The store, Duluth Trading’s first in the state, will join Home2 Suites Hilton, convenience store Twice Daily and other offices and retailers in West End at Town Madison, which adjoins the Intergraph/Hexagon campus along Interstate-565. Duluth Trading is slated to open around the middle of next year.

“This is an exciting day for Town Madison,” said Joey Ceci, representing developer Louis Breland. “You couldn’t pick a better retailer” to join the project’s lineup.

Town Madison is a 563-acre modern, walkable, urban community which will also be the home of the minor league baseball Rocket City Trash Pandas and a Margaritaville Hotel.

Minnesota-based Oppidan Investment Co., a national property development firm, is the project developer.

Like everyone else at the ceremony, the 40-degree, rainy weather was on the mind of Oppidan’s Jay Moore – but in a different way.

“This is nice weather; it’s a switch for us,” he said.

Moore said Duluth was looking around the area for its first Alabama retail store before deciding on Madison.

“We approached Breland about a year ago,” he said. “We are super proud to be one of the first retailers in this fine development.”

From left, Chamber Board President Carmelita Palmer, Mayor Paul Finley, Madison County Commission Chairman Dale Strong and Oppidan’s Jay Moore take part in the groundbreaking ceremony.

Madison County Commission Chairman Dale Strong said the store will enable the development to become an economic engine and a destination.

“This is the start of a destination location,” he said. “To Duluth, this is a great investment. You’ll never regret it.”

Despite the grey skies and gloomy weather, Finley reflected the optimism of the big event and the future it beckons.

“This is a sun shiny day for the city of Madison.”

Madison Chamber Slays a Few Dragons with Annual Business Expo & Kids Day

The 2018 Madison Business and Kids Expo had a Dragons and Castles theme.

MADISON — Kings, queens, princes and princesses of all ages descended on the Madison Chamber of Commerce’s Business Expo and Kids Day 2018 Saturday at the Hogan Family YMCA.

With this year’s theme “Dragons & Castles!”, it felt more like a community carnival than a business event, although more than 60 businesses showcased their products and services. They were surrounded by face and rock painting, an inflatable bouncy house, balloon animals,  courtyard games with prizes, and a dunking booth targeting Madison City dignitaries.

Gold sponsors set up their castles in the rotunda where they gave out candy, face and clothing stickers, and provided paper crowns and shields for the kids to color themselves.

It was the first year exhibiting at the Expo for Madison’s new Integrity Family Care.

“We are doing free blood pressure screenings and introducing people to our Meet K mobile app where you can chat about your symptoms and get faster family care,” said Integrity’s Lacey Jackson.

Both Alexander Martial Arts and Jeong’s Yong-In Martial Arts put on their annual demonstrations, but the Expo expanded its theatrical performances this year with a Madison City Community Orchestra performance and a skit performed by Fantasy Playhouse Children’s Theater in the forecourt.

“Community involvement is at the heart of what we do,” said Emily Bonomo, marketing coordinator for the Lee Company. “It is family-friendly event where we can bring our own kids to work!”

Matt Curtis Real Estate created their own head-in-the-hole poster board, so kids could get a picture of themselves as a knight in shining armor.

“We love coming out to community events,to mix and mingle with the community and being able to show them what we do,” said Diana Hughes, social media manager at Matt Curtis Real Estate, one of the Expo’s long-time sponsors.
“This has been fun for us. We have spent the last couple of days as a team working on the castle and getting everything ready to bring with us.”

Out in the parking lot, HEMSI and Madison Fire & Rescue offered tours of a fire truck and an ambulance, while SARTEC brought out highly-trained rescue dogs to interact with the attendees.

There was no shortage of munchies as food trucks served everything from ice cream and snow cones to barbecue.

There were a couple of baseball games in play, and a Dunk Tank fundraiser with proceeds going to the Hogan YMCA’s 2018 Changing Lives Annual Giving Campaign. On the dunking seat were WDRM and WTAK radio hosts Josie Lane and Johnny Maze; Madison Fire Chief David Bailey, and Rainbow Elementary School Principal, Brian Givens.

“It is all about community for us,” said an IberiaBank representative in the doorway of an elaborately decorated castle façade, handing out candy and face stickers. “We have been attending the Expo for many years and every year it gets bigger and better for everyone.”

“Our goal is to unite all public and private interests to support those activities that are broader than any single business or industry,” said Chamber Executive Director, Pam Honeycutt. “The Madison Chamber of Commerce cannot succeed without its valued members, and we work hard to help our members stay involved, connected and informed through events like the Business Expo and Kids Day.

Top Ten nickname finalists for new baseball team revealed

MADISON — The 10 finalists in the BallCorps LLC “Name the Team” contest have been revealed.

Ballcorps is the owner of the Southern League baseball franchise to be relocated from Mobile to Madison for the 2020 season. All names were nominated by residents of the Tennessee Valley.

Working with Brandiose of San Diego, the Minor League Baseball industry’s premiere branding partner, 10 names were selected based on uniqueness and how each name relates to the characteristics of Madison and surrounding communities.

In a press release, the BallCorps said the names were chosen to further its goal of providing affordable fun to families in North Alabama and southern Tennessee.

Voting on the finalists will extend through noon Aug. 16, after which five names will be eliminated, and the five leading names will be open for voting. The team name will be announced at a public event on Sept. 5.

To vote, visit www.northalabamabaseball.com

The top 10 names in alphabetical order are:
Army Ants The Army’s Redstone Arsenal serves as a center for missile and national defense programs and employs more than 40,000 members of our community.
Comet Jockeys “Rocket City” was put on the map for its cutting-edge aerospace development. Comet Jockeys is a celebration of our brave astronauts who explore outer space.
GloWorms Glow worms are rare tiny bioluminescent creatures that call the caves at Dismals Canyon in North Alabama home, one of few places in North America.
Lunartics We are home to some of the wildest mad scientists facing today’s challenges in space and technology.
Moon Possums A scavenger at heart, these local critters are known for hanging around and having a good time with their family.
Puffy Head Bird Legs No joke! It’s lingo coined by our astronauts for body fluid moving from feet to head in outer space due to the lack of gravity!
Space Chimps A tribute to Miss Baker, one of the first animals safely launched into space. She is buried on the grounds at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center.
Space Sloths A nod to NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, the Space Sloths is up there with classic Minor League Baseball names like IronPigs, Flying Squirrels, Chihuahuas and Jumbo Shrimp.
ThunderSharks Mix the powerful thunder of North Alabama’s storms with the ultra-strong, sleek determination of the shark and you end up with the personality of our community: willing to attack any problem.
Trash Pandas (Slang for raccoon) Our community is known for engineering, and no creature in our galaxy is as smart, creative, determined and ingenious a problem solver – dedicated to the challenge at hand – as our local raccoons.

Madison sets groundbreaking for development, baseball stadium

MADISON — The first pitch won’t be thrown for another two years, but progress continues to round the bases for Madison’s multi-use development, including a baseball stadium for the city’s new minor league team.

City officials have set a groundbreaking for June 9 at the site of Town Madison, adjacent to I-565 and Zierdt Road. The event, which will feature ballpark fare such as popcorn and hot dogs, starts at 5 p.m. and the public is welcome.

“Breaking ground on this project is momentous, and we appreciate the work that has led us to this point,” said Madison Mayor Paul Finley. “Celebrating with our community while enjoying free ballpark food like hot dogs, popcorn and cotton candy is a fantastic way to rally together to start the process.”

A $46 million stadium, which will be the home of the minor league team, is the keystone of the development and is scheduled to be completed late next year.

BallCorps LLC, the owner of the Southern League’s Mobile BayBears, is moving the team to Madison and it will begin play in the 2020 season.

“Minor league baseball belongs back in North Alabama and we are thrilled to be a part of its return to the region,” said BallCorps Managing Partner and CEO Ralph Nelson. “We are excited to reveal more details about the team, its total integration into the community and to celebrate the start of construction.”

There will be a contest to name the team and commemorative baseballs will be given out to those who attend the groundbreaking celebration.