With a 100-foot-tall test stand as a backdrop, Huntsville-based Dynetics opened its $21 million, three-facility Aerospace Structures Complex in Decatur, which allows for the design, construction and testing of large aerospace structures in one location.
“There’s nothing like hardware to really show off the capabilities of the team,” Steve Cook, Dynetics' executive vice president of corporate development, said Tuesday at a ceremony to mark the opening.
Cook said Dynetics will provide structural and acoustic testing for United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan Centaur booster, which was in Test Stand 1 for the event.
And, in the adjacent 43,000-square-foot Hardware Integration Facility, Dynetics will build the universal stage adapter for NASA’s heavy-lift launch vehicle Space Launch System, which will carry the Orion spacecraft and later payloads to the moon, Cook said.
NASA said the SLS rocket and Orion spacecraft are designed to send humans to deep space as the backbone for America’s Moon to Mars exploration approach.
The Dynetics complex also houses a separate 4,000-square-foot Test Control Center, which features a customer support room with 10 live view workstations and a control room with six workstations.
The complex project has moved from an idea to the opening of the Decatur facility in two years, Cook said, adding that he’s ready to watch the Vulcan Centaur flight in another two years.
Dynetics, founded in 1974, is an engineering and technical services company, which also provides software and hardware products. About 10 years ago, Dynetics leaders decided to take “a leap of faith and get into the space business,” he said. With the opening of the complex, “we’re trying to do our part by keeping these programs moving forward.”
When the company’s Space Division was formed, “we had big dreams about space, but I don’t know if we had dreams at this level 10 years ago,” said Kim Doering, vice president of space systems.
Alabama Department of Commerce Secretary Greg Canfield said he’s proud of the state's role “in helping projects like this come to fruition.” He praised Dynetics for its vision, professionalism and leadership in technology and for “what you will do for humankind for space ventures yet to come.”
According to ULA, the company completed an important milestone in May with the conclusion of the system Critical Design Review (CDR) for the Vulcan Centaur rocket. The system-level CDR is the final review of the overall rocket design.
“We’re on track for the first launch in two years,” said Mark Peller, ULA’s vice president of major development, who has been the manager of the Vulcan Centaur program for the last five years.
According to Dynetics, through a strategic alliance, ULA’s Vulcan Centaur qualification booster will be tested to validate the Vulcan’s advanced design and manufacturing technology.
Dynetics will also use its new facility to perform structural testing for the Department of Defense and commercial customers.
Local officials remarked on how much the aerospace industry has changed the area’s landscape.
Morgan County Commission Chairman Ray Long said the Dynetics complex is located on what was once cotton fields.
“Who would have thought we’d be making rockets and boosters right here?” Long said.
Decatur Mayor Tab Bowling said, “We continue to see the aerospace footprint expanding here in Decatur-Morgan County."
Jeremy Nails, president and CEO of the Morgan County Economic Development Association, said the location in Mallard-Fox Creek Industrial Park is the perfect spot for the Dynetics complex.
Once a project is completed, it can be transported by ground, rail or by water because of its proximity to the Tennessee River.
Ground was broken on the complex in August 2017. In June that year, Dynetics was awarded the prime contract to manage the design, analysis, manufacturing, testing and assembly of the universal stage adapter for SLS. The estimated value of the contract is $221 million.
In the last two years, more than 500 new employees have joined Dynetics, according to Cook.
“We’ve been on a wonderful growth spurt,” he said.
Kristina Hendrix, Dynetics’ director of corporate communications, said the company now has about 2,500 employees, with just under 2,000 in north Alabama.
“Initially we’ll have 25 employees” at the Decatur complex, and employment there will “grow as testing opportunities become available,” Hendrix said.
"We have started to process the booster to begin the structural tests," she said.