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Pruning Cummings Research Park Infuses Vibrancy, Marketability

Any good gardener knows a first-class park requires long-term planning and seasonal pruning to ensure its vibrancy.

In 1962, Teledyne Brown Engineering (then Brown Engineering) lay deep roots on 100 acres off a dirt road that later became Sparkman Drive.

IBM, Lockheed Martin, Northrop-Grumman, and the University of Alabama-Huntsville quickly followed. Since then, Cummings Research Park’s 3,843 acres of prime Huntsville real estate has been a focal point of a 50-year master plan.

Cummings Research Park, with a 92 percent occupancy rate and 240 untouched acres to spare, is the second-largest research park in the nation and fourth largest in the world.

But to better understand the growth strategy at work in the park, it is best to differentiate between Research Park East and Research Park West.

“When we talk about current growth, we mean business growth from companies within the park, especially on the west side,” said Erin Koshut, the executive director of Cummings Research Park. “On the east side, market studies show we need to redevelop that area to create greater density and to replace 1960s and 1970s buildings with properties that align with today’s economy. That will infuse the older section with new vibrancy.

“By doing that, we won’t have to look at physical land expansion per se for a very long time.”

Within the master plan are five-year work plans. The city is currently working off a plan finalized in 2016; a new plan begins in 2021. The plan acknowledges that some of the original buildings and key properties in the oldest sections of Research Park East are no longer viable in the market.

“Without the revitalization, if a company wants to go in and invest in that part of the park, they wouldn’t get their return on investment,” said Koshut. “That is why the zoning ordinances were changed for Research Park East – to give back some of the land to the park and to reduce economic setbacks.”

Cummings Research Park East

Rendering of Bradford Crossing

One such property is at Bradford and Wynn drives on the former site of the St. John Paul II Catholic High School. Driven Capital Partners in California purchased the four-acre site and plans to redevelop it into a mixed-use site called Bradford Crossing.

“Article 55 of the new zoning ordinance is very specific and says if you have a retail element on the ground floor, there has to be two or more uses,” said Koshut. “We cannot build a standalone gas station or drop a superstore in there, but a multistory building with ground floor retail will create density on a small but efficient parcel of land.

“No decision has been made on what other uses will be included, but it could be office space, multi-family residences, a hotel, or a mixture of all three on upper floors.”

There are four big red circles marking areas of Cummings Research Park East targeted for potential mixed-use redevelopment. Currently, no groundbreaking date is set for Bradford Crossing.

“This is not just the (Huntsville-Madison County) Chamber or the city calling for these changes,” said Koshut. “We have landowners like the Olin King family at Crown Leasing who own property on Bradford Drive. They demolished the building that was on it and now have the land for sale. Business and landowners understand the flavor of changes happening in the older section of the park.”

Other planned redevelopments include converting Executive Plaza off Sparkman Drive into a multi-use facility, including an arena for the UAH hockey team and convocations; and Huntsville’s plans to donate up to $1.8 million in land to Alabama’s third magnet school, the Alabama School of Cyber Technology and Engineering. It has a temporary home at the Tom Bevill Center on UAH’s campus, but plans are to build a permanent location in Cummings Research Park East by 2022.

“This will give the whole park along the outskirts of UAH, a big infusion of vibrancy and marketability,” said Koshut.

Cummings Research Park West

The new Radiance Technologies facility will consolidate operations and employees.

Over in Cummings Research Park West, it is not about redevelopment but about taking what is there, making it better, and expanding the footprint. In fact, Cummings Research Park West will see three major projects and numerous moderate but significant business expansions this year.

By the end of the year, Radiance Technologies will be moving into a 100,000-square-foot facility at 310 Bob Heath Drive. The new facility will consolidate operations and employees, but with significant growth, Radiance will keep its 38,000-square-foot facility on Wynn Drive in Cummings Research Park East for a while.

The new $45.5 million, 83,000-square-foot BAE Systems building is sprouting from a 20-acre site at Old Madison Pike and Jan Davis Drive. It is scheduled to open in 2020.

The $45.5 million, 83,000-square-foot BAE Systems building is scheduled to open next year.

“BAE Systems has a long history with Huntsville dating back many years when they had only a couple of employees,” said Koshut. “We are proud to see them bringing in 200 employees, many new hires, and some recruited to Huntsville from the Northeast.”

Fifty-four-foot walls are up around the $200 million Blue Origin rocket engine production facility on Explorer Drive. Expected to open its doors in March 2020, Blue Origin is estimated to bring up to 300 jobs to the local economy.

Dynetics just expanded its footprint with the 78,000 square-foot Dr. Stephen M. Gilbert Advanced Manufacturing Facility; and IronMountain Solutions found a new home on Voyager Way.

“We have the first apartments, Watermark at Bridge Street Town Centre, built in Research Park,” said Koshut. “They consist of two four-story buildings and 240 apartments. Over half already leased before they open and of course a majority of those people work in Research Park.”

She said they would like to see an extension of Bridge Street Town Centre or at least retail that is congruent to Bridge Street grow into the commercial retail corridor between Bridge Street’s outdoor shopping promenade and Lake 4.

It’s All for the Employees

“There is a key component of all this expansion and redevelopment,” said Koshut. “It is driven by the wants and needs of employees.

“These companies want to recruit top talent to Huntsville, and they want to retain them. They require conveniences, activities, and amenities that have been available to them in cities where they are recruited from, many bigger than Huntsville.”

This includes access luxury apartments and single-family homes in or surrounding the park; creating a sense of vibrancy and community with activities such as the Food Truck Fest that draws some 300 people a month; free monthly happy hours in the park; and free Suzy’s Pops or Steel City Pops during the summer.

Later this summer or early fall, Koshut said the city will launch a pilot Bike Share project in Cummings Research Park West with three bike-share stations.

“As the city continues to invest in that program, we hope to connect many bike-share systems across the city so, at any time, an employee can hop on a bike and ride out to lunch,” said Koshut. “Young people enjoy being outside and easily get tired of being stuck in an office all day. Huntsville companies are recruiting people from cities that offer a quality lifestyle amenity.”

So, as new buildings are sprouting up all over Cumming Research Park, it always helps to keep the park neatly clipped and pruned to inspire growth and opportunities among the older, well-established buildings alongside the new and flourishing.

UAH to Host Interim State Cyber and Engineering School; Massey Named President

The University of Alabama-Huntsville’s Bevill Center will serve as the interim site for the Alabama School of Cyber Technology and Engineering, it was announced Friday.

Also, former Madison County Schools Superintendent Matt Massey was named the school’s first president. The school is scheduled to open in August 2020 with 10th- and 11th-grade students from across the state attending.

“The University of Alabama in Huntsville is excited to be the interim location for the Alabama School of Cyber Technology and Engineering,” said UAH President Dr. Darren Dawson. “Our Bevill Center on campus will provide secure living arrangements for students, in addition to classroom space and food services.

“We appreciate the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers working with us to meet their training needs elsewhere on campus so that the School could begin residency and education on our campus next year.”

The announcements were made at a press conference at Redstone Federal Credit Union.

“It’s not only an exciting opportunity to be named president of the school, but to be a resource for teachers and administrators to implement cyber and STEM into their schools,” said Massey, who had served as the county’s superintendent for 4 1/2 years. “The result will not just impact 300 students in the school, but will exponentially reach students and educators all across the state.”

The city of Huntsville is donating property in Cummings Research Park for the school’s permanent location. The school is expected to open there in August 2022.

“The City of Huntsville is proud to be an ongoing partner in this cyber initiative by supporting Alabama’s cyber magnet school with a gift of property for a new campus,” said Mayor Tommy Battle. “Once again, Huntsville will continue to be the epicenter for the state’s best and brightest to help Alabama and our nation meet the demand for a future workforce in cyber and engineering.”

The independent residential magnet school will provide students from across the state with educational opportunities and experiences in cyber technology and engineering. The school will also assist Alabama teachers, administrators, and superintendents in replicating cyber technology and engineering studies in their own schools.

“The ASCTE Board could not be more pleased with the continued and expanded partnership with UAH, and the tremendous gift by the City of Huntsville through Mayor Battle and the City Council to establish a permanent site in CRP for the school,” said Sen. Arthur Orr, president of the school’s Board of Trustees. “All in all, it is gratifying to see the Huntsville community realize the importance of this school to the area and state as we establish a world-class institution.”

Huntsville’s Connection to NASA’s Parker Solar Probe

Now that the historic Parker Solar Probe is charging toward the Earth’s sun, scientists are ready to use it to answer decades old mysteries about its core, surface and atmosphere.

“This mission has been the dream of scientists since the beginning of the space age,” says Dr. Gary Zank, director, Center for Space Plasma and Aeronomic Research at the University of Alabama in Huntsville. “To see it finally happening is intensely satisfying. Like all great missions, however, we will learn more than ever imagined and yet will be left wanting to know even more.”

Since the probe launched Aug. 12, the spacecraft and its instruments are going through commissioning to ensure that everything works as designed and planned, Zank says.

“This takes some time,” he said. “There will be a period that data is returned for a first analysis. But once everything is working, and the data begins to flow, that’s when the real mission begins — this is the discovery phase where the probe will begin to spend significant lengths of time in a part of the solar wind, this will occur even before the closest approach to the sun.”

Zank said scientists are “hoping” to see the probe’s first data possibly by the end of October or early November.

“From then on until the end of the mission, there will be a stream of papers describing, discussing, analyzing, relating to theories and models, everything that will be observed,” Zank said. “In fact, we will not have enough people working on this data set to unearth all the gems waiting to be discovered.

“This data will be used during the mission and for decades after, especially because this is a once-in-a-lifetime mission.”

UAH role

Zank, also an eminent scholar and distinguished professor at UAH, is co-investigator on one of the spacecraft’s investigations: The Solar Wind Electrons Alphas and Protons investigation.

That’s where CSPAR comes into play.

CSPAR and Marshall Space Flight Center formed a consortium with Harvard Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Los Alamos National Lab, University of California Space Sciences Laboratory, University of New Hampshire, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to build the SWEAP instruments.

SWEAP instruments will directly measure the properties of the plasma in the solar atmosphere during the probe’s encounters into the sun’s atmosphere over the next seven years. In includes a small instrument that will look around the protective heat shield of the spacecraft directly at the sun. This will allow SWEAP to sweep up a sample of the atmosphere and touch the sun for the first time.

“As fascinating and enjoyable as it is to develop theories and models, unless they’re tested and hopefully validated against observations, it’s about as useful as staring at one’s navel,” Zank said. “So, spacecraft observations are key to ensuring that we can develop testable, quantitative models and theories of the physical phenomena or processes that interest us.”

He said the origin of the solar wind, the high-speed (350 to 800 km/s) flow of charged particles from the solar surface, remains perhaps the outstanding unexplained problem in space physics today. The PSP was built in large part to answer that fundamental question, and basically clear up the mystery that has faced scientists since the start of the space age.

“The Parker Solar Probe is a billion dollar mission so certainly one of the largest heliophysics missions ever flown, and by extension, one of the biggest and most important projects in which CSPAR is involved,” Zank said.

In addition to SWEAP, the other investigations include:

  • The Fields Experiment will measure electric and magnetic fields, radio emissions and shock waves in the sun’s atmospheric plasma.
  • The Integrated Science Investigation of the sun uses two instruments to monitor electrons, protons and ions in the sun’s atmosphere.
  • The Wide-field Imager is a telescope that will make images of the sun’s corona to see the solar wind, clouds and shock waves as they pass by the spacecraft.

Proving a theory?

Then there is Zank’s theories related to how the sun can be hot at its core yet stay relatively cool at its surface, while at the same time super-heating its coronal atmosphere?

“I have developed two theoretical models to explain the heating of the solar corona, which in turn will explain the origin of the solar wind,” Zank said.

Both models, he said, are based on the dissipation of low frequency magnetic turbulence, and the differences reside in certain somewhat technical characterizations of the underlying turbulence.

“Broadly speaking, they’re both turbulence models,” Zank said. “The competing model for heating the solar wind relies on high frequency waves called ion-cyclotron waves, and the damping of these waves is thought to heat the solar corona. PSP will measure directly the coronal plasma using the SWEAP instrument that I’m involved with and the magnetic fluctuations using the Fields instrument.

“The combined results from these two instruments will allow us to infer the nature of the fluctuations and so distinguish between low-frequency turbulence-like and high-frequency wave-like modes. The amount of energy in these fluctuations can be measured as well. From these kinds of measurements, we will be able, if life remains simple and straightforward (not always guaranteed!), we should be able to take the first steps in confirming what the basic heating mechanism is for the solar corona and hence the origin of the solar wind.”

 

 

Dr. Michael Griffin is keynote speaker at SMD Symposium

Michael Griffin

A former NASA administrator and University of Alabama-Huntsville eminent scholar returns to the Rocket City in a key role at one of the largest symposiums of its kind.

Dr. Michael Griffin, who is responsible for ensuring U.S. military technical superiority as Undersecretary of Defense for Research and Engineering, is set to provide the keynote address at the upcoming Space & Missile Defense Symposium.

The event is called “the leading educational, professional development and networking event in the space and missile defense community,” and the keynote dinner will be Aug. 8 at the Von Braun Center. According to a Department of Defense spokesperson, Griffin was not ready to reveal the topic of his address when contacted in July.

Griffin, a former NASA administrator and eminent scholar at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, took over his new role at the Pentagon earlier this year following a career that has spanned academia, industry, and the civil and national security government space sectors. He was appointed by President Trump to fill the new position created from the reorganization of the Pentagon’s acquisition, technology and logistics (AT&L) organization.

The 2017 National Defense Authorization Act instructed the DoD to break up AT&L and replace that undersecretary position with two new ones, including Griffin’s post as undersecretary for research and engineering post, to develop future technologies; and an undersecretary for acquisition and sustainment, held by Ellen M. Lord, who has day-to-day focus on existing defense systems.

In his role, Griffin is responsible for the research, development, and prototyping activities across the Department of Defense enterprise and is mandated with ensuring technological superiority for the DoD, according to his U.S. DoD biography. Griffin oversees the Missile Defense Agency, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the Strategic Capabilities Office, Defense Innovation Unit Experimental, the DoD Laboratory enterprise, and the undersecretariat staff focused on developing advanced technology and capability for the U.S. military.

During his career, Griffin was deputy for technology in the Reagan-era Strategic Defense Initiative Office and served as NASA administrator under President George W. Bush. He was also president and chief operating officer of In-Q-Tel, the nonprofit venture capital firm created and funded by the CIA.

He served as Space Department Head at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory and was the King-McDonald Eminent Scholar and professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at UAH from 2009-2012 before serving as a consultant to the military defense community.