Blue Origin Mission Demonstrates Crew Capsule Upgrades

It was a picture-perfect launch and landing Thursday for Blue Origin’s New Shepard program.

The NS-14 booster touches down at the landing pad about two miles from where it lifted off at Blue Origin’s Launch Site One in Van Horn, Texas. (Blue Origin Photo)

Named after astronaut Alan Shepard, the first American in space, New Shepard is Blue Origin’s fully reusable suborbital launch vehicle.

New Shepard is designed to take astronauts and research payloads past the Kármán line (100 km), the internationally recognized boundary of space, returning them to Earth with minimal refurbishment required between flights. Thursday’s flight was the 14th mission to space and back for the New Shepard program. 

The rocket engine company founded by Amazon’s Jeff Bezos has a $200 million, 350,000 square-foot plant in Cummings Research Park. The plant will make the company’s reusable BE-4 and BE-3U engines for the New Glenn program.

Named after John Glenn, the first American astronaut to orbit Earth, New Glenn is a single-configuration, heavy-lift orbital launch vehicle capable of carrying people and payloads routinely to low Earth orbit, geostationary transfer orbit, cislunar, and beyond.

The engines will be tested at Test Stand 4670, the historic site at Marshall Space Flight for testing the Saturn V first stage and the space shuttle main engine. Blue Origin has begun refurbishment, restoration and modernization of this piece of American history, bringing the sound of rocket engines firing back to Huntsville. 

Mission NS-14 featured a crew capsule outfitted with astronaut experience upgrades for upcoming flights with passengers onboard. There were no passengers on Thursday’s flight.

Among the upgrades in the six-passenger capsule are speakers in the cabin with a microphone and a push-to-talk button at each seat so astronauts can continuously talk to Mission Control; an alert system with a panel at each seat relaying safety messages to passengers; and cushioned wall linings and sound suppression devices to reduce ambient noise inside the capsule.  

The NS-14 crew capsule descends to the West Texas desert after Thursday’s mission. (Blue Origin Photo)

Blue Origin said the flight continued to prove the robustness and stability of the New Shepard system and the BE-3PM liquid hydrogen/liquid oxygen engine. 

The New Shepard vehicle has completed 14 successful consecutive launches, 13 consecutive successful booster landings, three successful escape tests (from the pad, mid-flight at Max Q, and in the vacuum of space), and 15 consecutive successful crew capsule landings, including a pad escape. One of New Shepard’s boosters has flown five times consecutively; the other has flown a record seven times consecutively, both with minimal refurbishment between flights.

 Key Mission Stats 

      • 15th consecutive successful crew capsule landing (every flight in program, including pad escape test in 2012). 
      • The crew capsule reached an apogee of 347,568 feet. 
      • The booster reached an apogee of 347,211 feet.
      • The mission elapsed time was 10 minutes, 10 seconds and the maximum ascent velocity was 2,242 mph.

Built for Business and Baseball: New Avid Hotel at Town Madison Open

MADISON — It is sure to be a home run for business travelers and baseball fans – the new Avid Hotel at Town Madison has the perfect setup for both, at the Madison/Wall-Triana Highway exit of I-565. It is a just a throw across the infield from Huntsville International Airport, Redstone Arsenal and Cummings Research Park.

A fitness center is among the amenities provided at the Avid.

For the business traveler, there are 55-inch HDTVs with free Wi-Fi, a fitness center, free breakfast with fresh-ground coffee, high-quality mattresses and black-out roller shades to promote a sound sleep. 

The Avid includes a 24-hour “market.”

For the baseball fan, it is just a throw from the outfield of Toyota Field, home of the Rocket City Trash Pandas. There are outdoor patios and a 24-hour market for after-the-game munchies and a mini-refrigerator in every room.

According to Pritesh Patel, one of the owners of Jalasai Hospitality Co., the 87-room Avid by Intercontinental Hotels Group is a boutique-style hotel that promises a spotless hotel environment that is always ready for its next guests.

Double beds await the traveler for a restful sleep.

“This Avid hotel is the perfect fit for this location and community,” said Patel. “Whether you are a business traveler or visiting for a game at Toyota Field, in town for business or pleasure, you will find that we focus on getting the essentials right. The Avid hotel will provide the comfort, modern design and high standard of quality service to exceed your expectations.” 

The Town Madison hotel is the 21st Avid hotel and is a short hop from more than 1 million square feet of new retail, restaurant, and entertainment venues including Duluth Trading Co., J Alexander’s Restaurant, Outback Steakhouse, and 700,000 square feet of office space. 

Dynetics Brings Christmas Cheer to Local Charities

To celebrate the holidays, Dynetics, a wholly owned subsidiary of Leidos, continued its volunteering and giving traditions during a challenging year.

In light of the highs and lows of 2020, extra holiday cheer felt imperative, the company said. “Dynetics wanted to make a greater community impact to finish-out a year affecting so many.”

As part of “The Twelve Days of Dynetics,” employees chose five charities to support. Each charity received a $10,000 gift totaling $50,000. The five organizations selected are:

  • CASA of Madison County, or the Care Assurance System for Aging and Homebound, an organization enabling the aging and homebound to live at home independently, safely and with dignity.
  • Kids to Love, a group that has touched the lives of more than 250,000 foster children since its incorporation in 2004.
  • Make-a-Wish Alabama, a chapter of the non-profit that grants life-changing wishes to children with critical illnesses.
  • National Alliance on Mental Illness – North Alabama, a local organization dedicated to improving the quality of life for people with mental illnesses, including their families.
  • Still Serving Veterans, a team that serves and honors veterans and their families by making connections that lead to fulfilling careers, benefits and services.

Representatives from the organizations joined Dynetics Group President David King for a socially distanced check presentation outside the Dynetics corporate headquarters in Cummings Research Park.

Prelude to Tokyo: Team USA Rolls into 2021 Paralympic Cycling Season in Huntsville

The Rocket City is quickly becoming a city of elite athletic events.

The latest jewel in Huntsville’s crown is the Huntsville Paralympic Cycling Open – a stepping-stone event for the 2021 Paralympic Games in Tokyo.

After a year of postponement due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Mayor Tommy Battle announced Huntsville, in partnership with the U.S. Paralympics Cycling Committee and presenting sponsor Toyota, will open the 2021 Paralympic Cycling’s national calendar here next spring. 

Battle has long said Huntsville is quickly becoming the location of choice for athletic events and with more than 100 elite Paralympic athletes competing April 17-18, 2021, the elite U.S. Paralympic Cycling Team will not disappoint. Huntsville Paralympic Cycling Open is a key stop for cyclists looking to make it to the 2021 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics next year.

“At a time when our country and world is dealing with a pandemic and unease around the future of sports, this event can inspire us and unite us,” said Battle. “The event requires a lot of planning and Medalist Sports has been working with Toyota, the City of Huntsville, the Huntsville Madison County Chamber of Commerce, Cummings Research Park, and the Huntsville Madison Convention and Visitors Bureau for several months to make the event happen.

“The event has been in the works a long time, ever since the U.S. Paralympic Cycling Committee representatives visited Huntsville in October 2019 to scout a venue that would work well for this event. They really liked what they found in Cummings Research Park.”

He said Cummings Research Park has hosted several 5k and cycling events and that played a large part in the decision. It is also relatively calm on weekends in terms of traffic. 

“The Paralympic Committee is continuing to work with Toyota and our local leaders to make sure things go smoothly for the race planners, athletes, families, and the sports teams,” said Battle.

Team USA athletes have continued their training throughout 2020, despite the pandemic, to stay in top shape as they get ready to compete again and qualify for the Tokyo Paralympics. 

Ian Lawless: “We expect to see many of the same names in Huntsville, later competing in Tokyo.”

“The Huntsville Paralympic Cycling Open is not only our domestic road cycling season opener for our Paralympic athletes, but it will be their first major return to competition on the road after we have reset things due to the pandemic in 2020,” said Ian Lawless, director of Paralympic Cycling. “We have had no road events either domestic or internationally this year, so Huntsville will be an opportunity for 100 Paralympic cycling athletes to compete in a beautiful venue, as part of their road to Tokyo.”

The Paralympic athletes will be competing in Europe in May 2021 to earn final spots for the Tokyo games. The roster will be comprised of winners from the Huntsville Open, making it a crucial event to the athletes’ path to Tokyo.

“We are super excited and of course we will be working with the CDC and the Paralympic sports medicine team and Paralympic Committee to put on an event that is safe for our athletes and for the community, and we will be working with local authorities in Huntsville to do so,” said Lawless.

“We appreciate all the folks involved in the local organizing committee, Mayor Battle and our partner with both Toyota Alabama and Toyota nationally for their support, not only of this event, but the Paralympic cycling program at the U.S. Olympics and the Paralympic committee.”

As the presenting sponsor, Battle said this is another example of how Toyota is so supportive of our community and will be active in helping make this event a reality.

Visually impaired athletes ride in tandem with a sighted pilot on the front.

“As a longstanding partner with the city of Huntsville and with the Chamber, it is truly an honor for Toyota to present this wonderful opportunity for our community and for the Toyota Alabama team members to show the world what Huntsville has to offer,” said Kim Ogle, manager of Corporate Communications for Toyota Alabama. This partnership further identifies our commitment to sustainable societies through mobility and to reiterate that no matter the challenge, when a person is free to move, anything is really possible, and no one knows this better than the amazing athletes who will compete at the U.S. Paralympic Cycling Open. 

“They have fought against adversity throughout their lives, yet they never gave up the dream of representing their country at the highest level … this campaign truly reflects the Olympic and Paralympics spirit of encouragement, challenge and progress and aims to inspire our employees, our partners, and our customers to dream the impossible dream. And in this spirit, we look forward to welcoming Team USA athletes as they go for the gold.”

Lawless said fans should expect to see an exciting event with high stakes, and athletes competing at a world-class level.

“We expect to see many of the same names in Huntsville, later competing in Tokyo,” said Lawless.

The event begins with individual time trials on Saturday, April 17. The athletes will compete within their categories, all day against the clock on a 15 km course. 

On Sunday, there will be a road race with about 12 different races throughout the day where athletes within their categories race varying distances on a 12km course. Those races consist of men’s and women’s road races and hand cycling team relays with multiple laps depending on their category.

“In Paralympic cycling there are races in different categories for people of varying disabilities based on their level of function and the type of bikes they ride, whether they ride a handcycle or a 2-wheel bike with or without an adaptation, or a tandem for visually impaired riders,” said Lawless. “They participate with a sighted pilot on the front.”

He said they also have athletes with neurologic impairments compete on a 3-wheel upright trike.

“It is a mass start race, but I think most importantly, what you’ll see is athletes returning to competition for the first time on the road since September 2019,” said Lawless. “That is a long time for our athletes to be off from competition domestically and internationally.”

The event will feature the best Paralympic athletes in the nation can show not only the local community, but the world what they can do, and how elite they are in terms of their athletic ability. 

Oz Sanchez: “Huntsville will be thoroughly pleased with the caliber of athletes they see here.”

Oz Sanchez, a three-time Paralympian champion who competed in the 2008, 2012, and 2016 Games, is also a six-time Paralympic medalist. 

“I am absolutely looking forward to our first race in Huntsville next year where I will most definitely plan on competing,” he said. “It’s going to be the benchmark for what we are going to look like the rest of the season, and hopefully a good indicator of the fit and feel of the rest of the season.

“An event like this one really gives us that ‘shaking off the cobwebs’ (after a year off in 2020) and seeing what our fitness is like. There is nothing that really replicates the actual feel of a competitive day of racing – the nerves, the edge, the mindset, the psyche – so if we don’t have these sorts of opportunities to dry run the process of competing at a top level, it sets us up for less than ideal or less than desirable performance.”

“I will likely be keeping my campaign head down, remain on-throttle. It will be a benchmark temperament check in Huntsville,” said Sanchez. “I keep my mind and my eye on the prize – Tokyo – that is where it all ends, and Huntsville will be thoroughly pleased with the caliber of athletes they see here. Huntsville will be like a miniature championship as far as I’m concerned.”

There is no charge for admission or tickets required to attend any of the events.

“The beauty of roadside cycling worldwide is that it is available to the general public and to the community to come out and watch,” said Lawless. “If you have seen professional cycling like the Tour de France on TV for example, traditionally there are thousands of fans on the side of the road.

“In 2020, the Paralympic Committee worked hard to figure out how to run outdoor professional cycling events in a safe way.  They have been recognized for setting the bar high and coming up with new standards on how to run a road cycling competition that is still open and free and available to the public in a way that protects the athletes, protects staff working on the event, and protects the community and spectators all in attendance.” 

He said that is the standard they will be following in working with the city, the state, and national authorities, as well as the CDC and their sports medicine team, to ensure protocols and parameters are in place to keep everyone safe.

“We are excited about having a host community and local organizing committee who is investing a lot into this event, as well as great support from Toyota,” said Lawless.

$67 Million Multi-Family Development Planned near Research Park Boulevard

Plans for a $67 million multifamily development including apartment buildings and cottages in west Huntsville have been announced by Birmingham-based Capstone Building Corp.

According to Capstone, Anthem Apartments and Cottages is a 406-unit luxury rental community that will include 14 apartment buildings with 312 units and 48 garages along with 94 single-family cottages with standalone garages. The development will feature front porches facing onto community greens along with park-like design elements throughout to create more community engagement. 

The units will feature 10-foot ceiling, gas appliances, quartz countertops, LED lighting, and luxury vinyl flooring. 

The property is at the intersection of Plummer and Johns roads and spans 40 acres. It will include the following amenities:

  • Clubhouse 
  • Pavilion 
  • Two Saltwater Pools 
  • Firepit Terraces 
  • Manicured Lawn Games Area 
  • Dog Park 
  • Playground 
  • Herb Garden 

“We appreciate EYC Companies and The Kalikow Group for selecting Capstone Building Corp. as the builder on this important project,” said Jay Chapman, President & Chief Executive Officer of Capstone Building Corp. “We look forward to another great experience in Huntsville.” 

Anthem Apartments and Cottages will be just west of Research Park Boulevard and minutes north of Cummings Research Park and Redstone Arsenal. 

Capstone Building Corp. serves as the general contractor, EYC Cos. and The Kalikow Group as the developers.

SAIC Adds Innovation Factory Hub in Huntsville

SAIC is adding an Innovation Factory Hub to its Huntsville site, expanding its presence and support to local customers. This marks the latest expansion of SAIC’s Innovation Factory network where the Department of Defense and other federal government agencies can evaluate new technologies and accelerate delivery of new and modernized systems.

SAIC’s Innovation Factory is a nationwide network of physical and virtual environments using a highly automated, cloud-hosted toolset; agile practices; and DevSecOps production chains to rapidly build, test, and deploy first iterations of solutions quickly and then enhance them quickly through close customer collaboration. Innovation Factory hubs connect SAIC’s innovators and toolsets, startups/tech companies, and the customer. 

The Huntsville Innovation Factory Hub will be integrated into SAIC’s Innovation Factory network and showcase uniquely focused technologies enabling end-to-end analysis, experimentation and engineering focused on digital engineering with modeling and simulation and rapid prototyping capabilities.


“As we have witnessed during the COVID-19 pandemic, the requirement for true digital transformation has never been greater. This expansion to SAIC’s longstanding presence in Huntsville with a new Innovation Factory Hub allows us to support emerging needs, while also leveraging our solutions and company-wide expertise – developed over four decades supporting local customers,” said Jim Scanlon, SAIC executive vice president and general manager of the Defense Systems Group. “With all sectors rapidly implementing technology to meet and conduct business virtually, our new Innovation Factory Hub will enable our Huntsville-area customers to accelerate solutions to meet their mission requirements.”

With more than 2,800 employees, SAIC’s Huntsville office is the company’s largest single location outside of its Reston, Va., headquarters and the Washington, D.C., region.

In addition to supporting local customers, the Huntsville Innovation Factory Hub will advance innovation for the entire community and be able to integrate solutions from SAIC’s local small and large business partners.

“The Huntsville Innovation Factory Hub is focused on driving Defense modernization initiatives while addressing the technical challenges associated with DOD multi-domain operations and force modernization initiatives,” said SAIC Chief Technology Officer Charles Onstott. “Our researchers and engineers will leverage digital engineering and agile software development to enable the DOD to rapidly explore and implement innovative technologies, such as big data analytics, artificial intelligence, augmented and virtual reality, and modeling and simulation, focused on improving mission outcomes.” 

The Huntsville Innovation Factory Hub will open in a phased approach. Phase 1 is an immediate fielding of Innovation Factory cloud-based process and tools focused on app and IT modernization, and teams will use existing conference spaces until hub spaces are ready.  Follow-on phases will leverage “workplace of the future” renovations in SAIC’s Odyssey Drive facility, and incorporate digital engineering, data analytics and modeling and simulation cloud-based tools. Completion of hub spaces is targeted for next spring.

The Innovation Factory relies on robust ecosystems of advanced technology partner companies, including startups and commercial partners, and federal government customers seeking new technologies.

U.S. Army Awards BAE Systems $179M for Next-Generation Missile Warning Systems

BAE Systems recently received $179 million in total awards from the Army as part of the Limited Interim Missile Warning System Quick Reaction Capability program.

This award includes orders for the first two production lots and funding to enable fielding of the next-generation Missile Warning System. The MWS provides crews with advanced threat detection capabilities, improving survivability and mission effectiveness in contested environments.

The new warning system is designed to protect aircraft in “high-clutter environments.” (Photo/BAE Systems)

“Threats are evolving and proliferating at a rapid pace and our aircrews who fly into harm’s way need the most advanced protection systems available,” said Chris Austin, director of Threat Detection Solutions at BAE Systems. “These orders follow an intensive two-year development and qualification program, made possible by a strong industry-government partnership focused on achieving an aggressive schedule.”

The foundation of LIMWS is BAE Systems’ 2-Color Advanced Warning System processor which will allow the Army to outpace the threat. 2CAWS builds upon BAE Systems’ experience in fielding systems for the rotary-wing environment. Optimized for size, weight, and power, 2CAWS features an open system processor, two-color infrared sensors for increased range, and a fiber optic A-kit for faster data transmission.

Work on the LIMWS program will be conducted in BAE Systems’ facilities in Merrimack, N.H., and Huntsville, where the company is building a state-of-the-art facility in Cummings Research Park.

The  Common Missile Warning System is currently fielded on thousands of Army platforms and has saved dozens of aircraft and their crews since it was first fielded in 2005.

Middleburg Communities Breaks Ground on 290-Unit Apartment Community in Cummings Research Park

Middleburg Communities has broken ground on Mosby Bridge Street, a 290-unit apartment development in Cummings Research Park. Construction on the community at 320 Voyager Way is expected to be completed April 2022 with leasing starting in May 2021.

“Mosby Bridge Street is another excellent example of utilizing our extensive research capabilities to identify prime locations surrounded by significant population and employment growth,” said Chris Finlay, Managing Partner of Middleburg Communities.  “By executing through our fully integrated team of development, construction, property management, and investment management, we are able to deliver better value to our residents and increased returns to our investment partners.”

Once completed, the property will be self-managed by Middleburg Communities, a Virginia-based real estate investment, development, construction and management firm.

“Middleburg is very excited to start this transformative development in what has become the fastest growing tech city in the U.S. and within Cummings Research Park, the second largest research park in the country,” said Middleburg Communities Vice President of Development Alexi Papapieris. “Mosby Bridge Street is our first investment in the Huntsville area and this property exceeded our most exacting standards, demonstrating strong job and population growth, a highly educated STEM workforce, new major employment hubs underway and immediate access to amenities, recreation and transportation corridors.”

Mosby Bridge Street will offer residents one-, two- and three-bedroom luxury apartments in four, four-story, elevator-served buildings with controlled access, conditioned corridors.

The development will feature Middleburg Communities’ Local Heroes program, which honors firefighters, police officers, emergency medical technicians and public school teachers by providing them with a rent discount for a select number of units.

Residents will be walking distance from the Bridge Street Town Centre and the community is enveloped by Cummings Research Park, home to a hub of science, technology, tech, space and defense companies, business incubators and higher education institutions.

The 3,800-acre CRP is home to nearly 300 companies in total and more than 30,000 employees and students. This is in addition to another 36,000 jobs at nearby Redstone Arsenal, which includes multiple Army commands, NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center and the FBI’s new $1 billion campus focused on cybersecurity.

Construction of Luxury Housing Continues as B’ham Developer Breaks Ground Near MidCity

As the worst of the COVID-19 crisis seems to be waning in North Alabama, new jobs, new construction, and plans for a new luxury living development pick up right where they left off in March.

Birmingham developers Capstone Communities broke ground on The Cottages at Old Monrovia, a 25-acre housing development near Old Monrovia Road and Oakwood Road, about a mile from Huntsville’s MidCity district. The rentals will feature a mixture of single-story attached homes, lofts and two-story townhomes.

“Our goal is to build a unique community and true sense of place at The Cottages,” said John Acken, executive vice president of development for Capstone Communities. “With plenty of sidewalks, pedestrian features and open green spaces, we want to create a safe and walkable community where residents can look forward to spending time outside enjoying cookouts, hosting community events and connecting with their neighbors.”

Capstone Communities estimates the project will bring 100 to 120 temporary and permanent jobs to the area in construction in management.

Convenient to Cummings Research Park and Redstone Arsenal, the low-density multifamily development consists of 275 cottage-style homes, expected to attract young professionals and their families, and empty-nesters looking to downsize.

Capstone Properties, the in-house management company for Capstone Communities, will begin leasing this fall. The first units are expected to be completed in March 2021 with the full completion slated for September 2021.

Architect’s rendition of the loft-style home at The Cottages.

Designed by Nequette Architecture & Design, also headquartered in Birmingham, The Cottages at Old Monrovia will offer a variety of upscale amenities such as nine to 12-foot ceilings, granite countertops, wood-grain flooring, in-unit washers and dryers, a smart home technology package, state-of-the-art fitness center, resort-style pool, centralized clubhouse, dog park, electric car charging stations, a car care center, a pet spa, 24/7 on-call maintenance and optional enclosed garage parking.

Capstone Communities (formerly Capstone Collegiate Communities) is a Birmingham-based commercial real estate firm specializing in the development, management and construction of student, multifamily and senior housing. They entered into a partnership with OG Capital, a private equity real estate investment firm specializing in the acquisition and re-positioning of existing multi-family properties throughout the South, to bring the development to Huntsville.

According to OG Capital principal David Oakley, the single-family style rentals have proven successful in other markets with a 50 percent faster lease-up period, and a 20 percent higher resident retention rate than traditional garden-style apartments.

“I first noticed this cottage concept out West a few years ago and grew to love it,” said Oakley. “Apartment living doesn’t have to mean stairs and elevators. The cottage style product meets the market by providing residents with the features they value most – private backyards, high ceilings and in-home tech packages – to name a few.”

It is Huntsville’s surge in innovation and economic growth that makes Huntsville the perfect location, said Shep Nolen, president of CBI Construction Services, Capstone Communities’ in-house general contractor for the project.

“We’re thrilled to enter such a promising market and support the city’s economic development efforts by creating additional jobs as Huntsville prepares for its next chapter of growth.”

Construction financing is being provided by Trustmark National Bank and Renasant Bank.

Blue Origin Launches Engine Building Plant

Blue Origin, a rocket engine company founded by Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, went from ground-breaking to ribbon-cutting in a year to open the company’s facility in Cummings Research Park.

Blue Origin held a press conference Monday with a stage full of dignitaries to laud the moment. Among those attending were Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle, Madison County Commission Chairman Dale Strong, U.S. Reps. Robert Aderholt and Mo Brooks, and U.S. Sen. Doug Jones.

Bezos did not attend the event at the $200 million, 350,000 square-foot plant, which will make the company’s reusable BE-4 and BE-3U engines that will aid space travel from human exploration to national security.

“At the core of every successful launch vehicle program are the engines that power those vehicles to space,’’ Blue Origin CEO Bob Smith said. “Early on in Blue Origin’s history, we made a crucial decision to invest in developing the next generation of reusable rocket engines.

“And now, it’s an exciting time for Blue, our partners and this country – we are on the path to deliver on our promise to end the reliance on Russian-made engines – and it’s all happening right here, right now, in the great state of Alabama. We couldn’t be prouder to call this our home for engine production.”

Blue Origin, which Bezos founded in 2000 and is headquartered in Kent, Wash., said the plant will add more than 300 jobs to the local economy.

While Blue Origin plans to build cutting-edge reusable rockets, the firm turned to the past to help launch its mission. It spent $50 million to renovate Marshall Space Flight Center’s test stand 4670, which was used to test the Saturn rocket that would take men to the moon in 1969.