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Blue Origin breaks ground on rocket engine factory in Madison County

Brandon Moseley

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via Governor's Office

Gov. Kay Ivey attended the formal groundbreaking of the Blue Origin rocket engine production facility in Huntsville.

“Blue Origin is a welcome addition to Alabama’s roster of world-class aerospace firms, and its new rocket engine facility in Huntsville will expand the state’s already robust capabilities in space flight,” Ivey said. “Blue Origin is making a significant investment in Huntsville, and I’m certain the company will discover the many benefits of doing business in Sweet Home Alabama’s aerospace cluster.”

Blue Origin was selected by United Launch Alliance (ULA) in September 2018 to supply their next-generation Blue Engine 4, or BE-4, for the first stage of ULA’s Vulcan Centaur Rocket. It will also launch Blue Origin’s own rocket.

“United Launch Alliance welcomes Blue Origin to the great state of Alabama and to join the other aerospace companies that have made Rocket City our home for decades,” ULA CEO Tory Bruno said. “A little more than three months ago, ULA chose Blue Origin’s BE-4 engine to power our Vulcan Centaur rocket, which we are manufacturing at our facility in Decatur, Alabama. I am pleased that Blue Origin has chosen to join the more than 200 ULA suppliers doing business here in Alabama. The state of Alabama knows how to attract and help business grow and I could not be more thrilled to be part of the resurgence of rocket and engine development in the Tennessee Valley.”

U.S. Sen. Doug Jones, D-Alabama, praised Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Alabama.

“He could not be here today, but I know the work that he has done on this project,” Jones said. “Jones said that growing up in the fifties and sixties he dreamed of going into space like John Glen and Allen Shepherd.

Jones praised the work that ULA does at its rocket factory in Decatur and said that a lot of people did not realize the work that ULA does.

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Huntsville area economic developer Nicole Jones told the Alabama Political Reporter, “United Launch Alliance (ULA) selected Blue Origin’s BE-4 engine to power the booster of the Vulcan Centaur rocket. Now that the company won the contract, Blue Origin will construct their facility (announced in under the Saturn V rocket at the US Space and Rocket Center in June 2017) on approximately 46 acres in Cummings Research Park.”

Since NASA retired the space shuttles with no replacement, the United States has not sent astronauts into space. The U.S. astronauts have been riding with the Russian space agency. The United Launch Alliance’s American built rockets in Decatur have been relying on Russian built rocket engines. The BE-4 engines being built in Huntsville changes all of that.

“ULA has been dependent on Russian rocket engines,” said Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Huntsville. “We don’t want to be dependent on any other nations that may or may not be reliable. It is wonderful that the BE-4 rocket engine is going to be built right where we stand today.”

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Brooks said that Blue Origin has 1500 employees and is headquartered in Kent, Washington. Brooks said that while Washington is nice, the company should move its headquarters to the Tennessee Valley.

“In addition to bringing hundreds of jobs to the area, the new Blue Origin BE-4 rocket engine production facility will allow the United States – Alabama – to take astronauts once again into space without dependence on other nations,” Nicole Jones said. “Two out of three of the major launch systems generated for the next decade of space flight will have engines built at this facility.”

“The United States is in the Space Race again,” Nicole Jones added.

“And what an appropriate and nostalgic time in history as we, in 2019, will celebrate the 50th anniversary of man on the moon as well as Alabama’s bicentennial,” said economic developer Nicole Jones. “The brilliant minds at Blue Origin and United Launch Alliance are an incredible asset to our state and nation. The presence of these global organizations highlights their important role as our state maintains its position of leadership in the aerospace industry.”

“It’s a great day here in Rocket City,” said Bob Smith, CEO of Blue Origin. “Thanks to the votes of confidence from United Launch Alliance, from the Air Force for national security missions, and from Huntsville and the state of Alabama, we are breaking ground on a facility to produce our world-class engines and power the next generation of spaceflight.”

Blue Origin’s BE-4 engine is the most powerful liquefied natural gas (LNG) fueled rocket engine ever developed. Using an oxygen-rich staged combustion cycle, BE-4 is capable of producing 2,447 kN (550,000 lbf) thrust with deep throttle capability. BE-4 is currently undergoing full-scale engine development testing in company facilities in Van Horn, Texas. Construction of the rocket factory in Huntsville will allow full rate engine production.

The BE-4 is America’s next rocket engine and is made for both commercial and government missions. The production of this engine would end the nation’s dependence on Russia for access to space for critical national security space systems.

The plant will be built on 46 acres at the corner of Explorer Boulevard and Pegasus Drive in Cummings Research Park. The project will produce more than 300 new jobs for Huntsville. The Huntsville manufacturing plant is expected to open in 2020, and the first flight test of the new engine is expected in 2021.

“Our workforce and our community are ready to deliver for Blue Origin, an innovative commercial space company that is changing what we think is possible in space,” said Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle. “These BE-4 engines will power launch systems to put everything from satellites and products into orbit to space tourists and perhaps even space settlers into the final frontier. You truly can’t get to space and explore all of its untold promise without going through Huntsville first.”

“Today’s groundbreaking by Blue Origin celebrates a valued and continued partnership in Madison County and the Rocket City,” said Madison County Commission Chairman Dale W. Strong. “Blue Origin recognizes both the strength of local aerospace engineering expertise, and also values the remarkable skill of our advanced manufacturing and workforce capabilities. We’re looking forward to Blue Origin writing a new chapter in our history of propulsion capability in north Alabama.”

Blue Origin’s rocket manufacturing plant is the latest exciting addition to Huntsville’s Cummings Research Park, which is the second largest research park in the United States and fourth largest in the world.

“We are thrilled to officially welcome Blue Origin to Cummings Research Park,” said Erin Koshut, The Park’s Executive Director. “As we like to say, the research and development happening here is driven by science and powered by people. CRP has come a long way since it was established in 1962. It is now 91 percent occupied and growing more by the day. We can’t wait to see construction take shape on the new Blue Origin facility and assist the company in recruiting talented people to join their Huntsville team.”

“ULA’s Atlas and Delta rockets are the most successful space launch vehicles in history, having launched more than 130 missions with 100 percent mission success.” ULA’s Bruno added.

“Today, we celebrate the culmination of those decades of knowhow and invention into the transition to our new Vulcan Centaur rocket. Vulcan Centaur is one system for all missions. It will embody our expertise and reliability while providing advanced technology to our warfighters, being superior in both cost and capability. Vulcan Centaur is the only launch vehicle with a design that is centered on our customers’ national security space mission. Vulcan Centaur will provide for our nation’s needs today and into the future. We look forward to our partnership with Blue Origin, building the advanced BE-4 engine to power our next-generation rocket, right here in Alabama!”

Students from Bob Jones High School, New Century High School, and Sparkman High School attended the Blue Origin’s groundbreaking in Huntsville to display projects they have been working on for the past year. The engineering classes at the three local high schools are participating in a collaboration project called DreamUp.

Each class is creating a payload that will launch on a future Blue Origin New Shepard mission. The projects will be enclosed in small cubesats weighing less than 1.1 pounds; one will test if voltage is affected by microgravity using a Raspberry Pi, and another will test the electrical current created by heat transfer in space. The students have been working on their projects since Spring 2018, submitting monthly reports to the technical team at NanoRacks. Their work is being done in collaboration with DreamUp PBC, the leading provider of space-based educational opportunities, and NanoRacks, LLC, the world’s leading commercial space station company.

Blue Origin is owned by multi-billionaire Amazon founder Jeff Bezos.

Brandon Moseley is a senior reporter with eight and a half years at Alabama Political Reporter. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Facebook. Brandon is a native of Moody, Alabama, a graduate of Auburn University, and a seventh generation Alabamian.

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Economy

New unemployment claims increased last week

More people joined the unemployment rolls last week than the week before.

Micah Danney

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There were 8,581 new unemployment claims filed in Alabama last week, up from 7,732 filed the previous week, according to the Alabama Department of Labor. 

Of the claims filed between Oct. 4 and Oct. 10, there were 3,125 related to the COVID-19 pandemic. That’s 36 percent, compared to 51 percent the previous week.

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Economy

Governor announces $1.5 million grant to expand job training at Bevill State Community College

The expanded facility will help train people in welding and heating, ventilation and air-conditioning and other trades. 

Eddie Burkhalter

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Gov. Kay Ivey and the Appalachian Regional Commission this week announced a $1.5 million grant to renovate and expand a training facility at Bevill State Community College. 

The expanded facility will help train people in welding and heating, ventilation and air-conditioning and other trades. 

“Alabamians are eager to work, and we are eager for them to find jobs that will allow them to earn a good living,” Ivey said in a statement. “These funds will help more Alabamians answer the call to the state’s increasing demand for jobs in these fields. I am thankful for our partnership with the Appalachian Regional Commission and the assistance they have provided in helping us respond to in-demand issues.”

The grant comes from Appalachian Regional Commission’s Partnerships for Opportunity and Workforce and Economic Revitalization initiative, which targets areas affected by the closing of coal mining and coal-related industries, according to a press release from Ivey’s office. 

The Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs administers the ARC program in Alabama.

“This grant is a shot in the arm for an Alabama economy that has maintained its poise during the cessation of coal industries and then the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic,” ADECA director Kenneth Boswell said in a statement. “ADECA is pleased to join with Gov. Ivey, ARC, Bevill State Community College and many other partners in this life-changing program.”

Dr. Chris Cox, Bevill State interim president, said the program will allow for scholarships for workers who lost jobs in coal-related industries.

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“This rapid training center expansion will help establish a career pipeline to support local manufacturing industries, will serve to diversify the region’s economy and will increase post-secondary students’ access to advanced training and completion of industry-recognized certifications,” Cox said in a statement.

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Economy

New Ford Bronco will use newer, lighter steel made in Alabama at ArcelorMittal

ArcelorMittal is also in preliminary negotiations with Ford on supplying the steel for other vehicles.

Brandon Moseley

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The 2021 Ford Bronco made of Gen 3 steel supplied by ArcelorMittal boasts a sporty look and can navigate difficult terrain. (VIA FORD)

ArcelorMittal in Mobile County was selected as the sole Gen 3 steel supplier for the 2021 Ford Bronco. This vehicle will be the first automobile in the world to incorporate Fortiform 980 GI, which is made at ArcelorMittal’s AM/NS facility in Calvert, Alabama.

Ford is placing a huge priority on light weighting and safety for the new Bronco and this steel grade accomplishes both, most notably helping to decrease the total vehicle weight by 10 percent making it more fuel efficient.

Steel, however, is stronger than aluminum or plastic thus making a safer vehicle whose occupants are more likely to survive an automobile crash.

ArcelorMittal’s co-engineering capabilities, helped foster the close collaboration between ArcelorMittal R&D and Ford’s design and welding experts. This synergy played a pivotal role in this project.

President Donald Trump’s administration has prioritized the encouragement of American steel manufacturing in trade negotiations. Tariffs placed on cheap foreign steel being allegedly dumped in the American market have made it advantageous to use American produced steel.

Both ArcelorMIttal and U.S. Steel have begun building new electric arc furnaces at their facilities in Alabama.

“In Alabama, we are witnessing immediate results from terms the Trump administration outlined in the USMCA, specifically the requirement for the automobile industry to utilize more steel made in North America,” said economic developer Nicole Jones. “Ford, an iconic American company, established a rigorous application process to become the Gen 3 steel supplier for the 2021 Ford Bronco, and Alabama-based ArcelorMittal met the challenge.”

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ArcelorMittal is in preliminary negotiations with Ford on supplying the steel for other vehicles. The company is negotiating with Ford and other original equipment manufacturers on how the world-class Fortiform 980 GI can meet their stringent lightweighting and safety targets for the vehicles of tomorrow.

“Metals and advanced materials are one of our state’s dominant industries,” Jones said. “Alabama Department of Commerce data from 2018 shows that primary metal manufacturing exports valued at nearly $1.6 billion, and fabricated metal manufacturing exports valued at $382 million. The direct and indirect jobs resulting from ArcelorMittal’s projects provide significant economic benefits for south Alabama and our entire state.”

Once ArcelorMittal completes its new electric arc furnace steelmaking facility at AM/NS Calvert, the company will have the capability of producing 1.5 million metric tonnes of steel slabs for the Hot Strip Mill and producing a broad spectrum of steel grades required for Calvert’s end-user markets including the automotive industry.

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“An electric arc furnace at Calvert makes strategic sense as it allows our asset to be more reactive to the local market as well as being in line with the USMCA,” said Lakshmi Mittal, the chairman and CEO of ArcelorMittal, referring to the U.S. Mexico Canada Agreement on trade which replaced NAFTA. ”Furthermore, it aligns with our ambition of producing smarter steels for a better world.”

ArcelorMittal is investing more than $500 million at its Mobile County mill to help the company serve customers.

AM/NS Calvert is the world’s most advanced steel finishing facility and demonstrates the highly successful partnership between ArcelorMittal and Nippon Steel Corporation.

AM/NS Calvert was originally built by Thyssenkrupp, with a total investment cost of $4 billion. The plant was acquired by ArcelorMittal and NSC as a 50-50 joint venture in 2014.

The joint venture has already invested more than $200 million into strategic projects in Calvert since its acquisition, before the ongoing planned $500 million expansion.

ArcelorMittal is the world’s leading steel and mining company. It has a presence in 60 countries and operates steelmaking facilities in 18 countries. In 2019, ArcelorMittal had revenues of $70.6 billion and crude steel production of 89.8 million metric tonnes, while iron ore production reached 57.1 million metric tonnes.

ArcelorMittal says that their goal is to help build a better world with smarter steels.

Steels made using innovative processes which use less energy, emit significantly less carbon and reduce costs. Steels that are cleaner, stronger and reusable. Steels for electric vehicles and renewable energy infrastructure that will support societies as they transform through this century.

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Economy

Port of Mobile sets another export coal shipment record

All the cargo loaded at McDuffie consisted of Alabama metallurgical grade coal bound for Asian markets. 

Staff

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A sky view of downtown Mobile and the Port of Mobile.

The Alabama State Port Authority set another export coal shipment record loading 146,479 short tons — or 132,883.5 metric tons — at its McDuffie Coal Terminal. 

The coal was loaded to the Newcastle Max class bulk carrier, NSU WELFARE, which matches the previous record bulk ship to call the port measuring 984.2 feet in length overall, known as LOA, with a width of 164.3 feet.

All the cargo loaded at McDuffie consisted of Alabama metallurgical grade coal bound for Asian markets. 

Rick Clark, deputy director and chief operating officer for the Port Authority, noted the increased Newcastle Max calls match increasing Post-Panamax vessel calls into Mobile, in part due to ongoing infrastructure investments.

“We’re not only deepening the channel to -50 ft. draft, we are also investing in shore-side infrastructure at McDuffie to improve throughput efficiencies and expand export capacity,” the authority said.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Port Authority recently signed the project agreement to let channel construction contracts by year-end 2020. The USACE awarded the first of six contracts to Great Lakes Dredge & Dock Company LLC on Sept. 28, 2020.

The $8.3 million contract will construct to -50 feet approximately two miles of channel including the port’s entrance.

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The harbor improvements along with the Port Authority’s planned multi-phase, $45 million capital improvement program at McDuffie are oriented toward meeting increasing vessel size and projected shipper demand.

Bernard Scott, manager of McDuffie Terminal, noted, “We’re striving to match terminal improvements with our channel expansion. Our focus shore-side will be in new equipment, equipment upgrades and yard management to accommodate the anticipated export coal needs of our customers.” 

Alabama’s metallurgical coal market is in demand and on the upswing with nearly $1.4 billion in recent or planned mining investments. Alabama’s low sulfur, high quality coking coal is ideally suited for steelmakers.

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Currently, Alabama holds about 4 billion tons of economically recoverable coal reserves, with 80 percent of those reserves comprised of metallurgical grade coal, according to a 2019 Auburn University at Montgomery economic impact study 

The Alabama State Port Authority owns and operates the state of Alabama’s deep-water port facilities at the Port of Mobile and its public facilities handle more than 26 million tons of cargo annually.

The authority’s container, general cargo and bulk facilities have immediate access to two interstate systems, five Class 1 railroads, and nearly 15,000 miles of inland waterway connections.

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