Cranes lift the interim cryogenic propulsion stage test article, built by United Launch Alliance in Decatur to Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville.(Image: NASA/MSFC: Emmett Given)
Marshall will stack the ICPS with other test articles and simulators that make up the SLS’ upper portion so that engineers can conduct structural testing to make sure the components can withstand the pressures of the mission.
“Testing is probably the most important part of building a rocket,” said Steve Creech, acting director of the Spacecraft and Payload Integration and Evolution Office at Marshall.
Welcome to Alabama’s vibrant aerospace sector, where you just might spot a component for America’s Mars rocket being transported down a river. On the same day, if you’re in Mobile, you might see an Alabama-built Airbus A320 aircraft climb into the sky for a test flight.
In the ULA factory in Decatur, workers assemble the Atlas V and Delta IV rockets that blast critical communications and surveillance satellites into orbit. In Alabama, Raytheon and Lockheed Martin manufacture key missile defense systems.
Inside several facilities across the state, military helicopters and large jet aircraft are refurbished and repurposed. Alabama factories also produce the raw materials that end up as components in passenger jets and other aircraft.
“Alabama has been involved in aerospace at the highest levels for decades,” said Gov. Robert Bentley, who is leading a state delegation at this week’s Farnborough International Airshow. “The industry in the state has developed a broad range of capabilities, meaning that Alabama workers are involved in just about every activity within aerospace, from design to manufacturing.
“Alabama is simply the perfect location for aerospace,” he added.
As industry leaders gather for the Farnborough show, Alabama’s aerospace industry is riding a wave of momentum that has seen substantial levels of new investment flow into the state.
Here’s a look at four trends that are helping to drive aerospace growth in Alabama.
Trend No. 1: Deepening expertise
Alabama is home to one of the heaviest concentrations of aerospace engineers in the nation – and their numbers are rising.
According to figures from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), Alabama is No. 5 in the total number of aerospace engineers, with 4,200 as of May 2015. Figured as a share of total jobs, though, the figure is 450 percent higher than the U.S. average. That places Alabama behind only Washington state.
With 3,700 aerospace engineers, Huntsville ranks No. 3 among U.S. cities. That concentration is an incredible 35.7 times greater than the U.S. average, the second highest rate for a city, according to the BLS report.
Last year, Boeing opened a technology and research center in Huntsville, which today is staffed with 300 engineers, scientists, analysts and others. In Tallassee, GKN Aerospace launched an engineering design center that focuses on composite materials, boosting the number of skilled workers there.