Alabama: Soaring To New Heights

In Alabama, aerospace and aviation forge frontiers, while “down to earth” industries grow.

By BF Editors
From the September/October 2022 Issue

In Alabama, aerospace has long been a foundation of the state’s economy. Today, aerospace, aviation, and defense firms continue to expand in the state.

“Alabama has long been major player in designing and manufacturing the most innovative, complex solutions to conquer skies and space, and we are continuing to influence the direction of the global industry today,” said Greg Canfield, Secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce in June. “Companies around the world know our workforce has proven itself, time and time again, and that’s why they keep turning to Alabama to help solve the industry’s biggest challenges through groundbreaking work.”

In May, the Huntsville International Airport won FAA approval to allow commercial space vehicles to land on its runway, making it the first commercial airport in the U.S. licensed to operate as a re-entry site for space vehicles. The decision means Sierra Space’s Dream Chaser spaceplane—a reusable re-entry vehicle to deliver supplies to the International Space Station—is one step closer to landing in Huntsville, realizing a vision city leaders set into motion beginning in 2014.

Alabama aerospace
ULA builds the Vulcan Centaur at its rocket factory in Decatur, AL. (Photo: Alabama Dept. of Commerce)

“The landing of Dream Chaser at Huntsville International Airport is part of a vision for economic development that continues our legacy in space science and taps into our workforce expertise and assets developed for the International Space Station,” Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle said.

Meanwhile, Lockheed Martin sited its new facility in Courtland. Known as Missile Assembly Building 4 (or MAB4), the site is being referred to a “digital first” center for the development of hypersonic strike technologies. Lockheed Martin said MAB4, which opened in late 2021, represents a milestone in its commitment to establish North Alabama as the “Home of Hypersonic Strike Production.”

And when Blue Origin selected Huntsville as the site for its new, $200 million rocket engine factory, the spaceflight company eyed the historic Test Stand 4670 at Marshall Space Flight Center, where NASA evaluated the engines that propelled the Saturn V rocket on the Apollo program’s journey to the Moon. The 300-foot structure, commissioned in 1965, had been inactive since 1988. Blue Origin launched a rehabilitation project to put the test stand back in action for the BE-4 and BE-3U engines made at its new Huntsville facility.

“One of the coolest things about this whole project is the history,’’ David Helderman, Blue Origin’s Director of Alabama Test Operations, told the Huntsville Business Journal in May. “We love that we’re building our history on history. It’s a cool, long history of America’s Space Program.”

Blue Origin’s Alabama-made BE-4 engines will power the company’s own New Glenn rocket as well as the United Launch Alliance’s next-generation Vulcan Centaur rocket, which will soon launch on its first mission. ULA builds the Vulcan Centaur in Decatur, near Blue Origin’s facility and the NASA test stand.

Back Down On Earth

Also in Huntsville, food processing in the state got a boost in June when Everbloom Health Inc., an associate company of the HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology, opened a new food product manufacturing facility on HudsonAlpha’s campus. The company expanded its portfolio of barley-based food products for health-conscious consumers as well as those following kidney or renal diets.

“We are excited about working to expand our product mix into new food types and flavors that delight our customers and help them live healthy lifestyles,” said Chris Cummings, PhD., President and CEO of Everbloom Health.

In Dothan, AL, SmartLam North America, maker of cross laminated timber (CLT) products, will invest $62 million to build a glulam manufacturing facility to produce large beams and columns. The project will create 43 jobs.