Oct. 30, 2017, © Leeham Co., Hancock County (MS): The US Space Shuttle program ended in 2011 and NASA is sending US astronauts to the International Space Station using Russian-made rockets.
But officials want to end reliance on those launch vehicles and are working with US companies to supply the boosters and prepare for a mission to Mars.
Last week, I wrote about Boeing’s efforts to develop the Space Launch System (SLS). I spent the week of Oct. 9 going from Mobile (AL) through the I-10 corridor in Mississippi and ending in New Orleans, gaining a high level understanding of the aerospace footprint in the US Southeast.
The Mississippi portion was arranged by the Mississippi Development Authority. I’ll provide additional reporting in the coming weeks. This week, I focus on NASA’s John C. Stennis Space Center in Hancock County (MS), an hour’s drive east of New Orleans.
Back in July, following the Paris Air Show the previous month, I wrote about Mississippi’s aerospace footprint. The piece was a telephone interview with Glenn McCullough, the executive director of the MDA.
Now, I’ve had some “boots on the ground time.” A visit to Northrop Grumman’s UAV facility in Moss Point (MS) was canceled due to landfall by and damage from Hurricane Nate the weekend before my trip.
Northrop has a facility there that manufactures sub-assemblies for the Global Hawk Unmanned Aerial Vehicle.
Systems for the RQ-8B Fire Scout helicopter-like UAV is produced at Moss Point.
(Northrop also builds ships in Pascagoula (MS), but this was not part of my itinerary.)
But, having been rained-out, so-to-speak, of going to Northrop, the next stop was NASA’s huge research and testing facility at the John C. Stennis Space Center.
As MDA’s McCullough told me in July, the way to space is through Mississippi.
The Center is huge. The entire District of Columbia and then some could be contained within the Space Center’s grounds.
There are five rocket-testing towers, where testing for all the US manned space flight engines has been done since the dawn of the US space program.
In its heyday, all five test stands were in use at the same time. Noise could be heard for 100 miles and in one case, weather conditions were such that the noise was reflected off low-level clouds, breaking windows in Mobile (AL) 100 miles away.
In addition to working with Boeing on the SLS, the Space Center is testing engines for SpaceX, a rival to Boeing for US government space contracts. SpaceX is owned by Elon Musk, of Tesla auto fame. Blue Origin, another private company—this one owned by Jeff Bezos of Amazon.com fame—also tested engines at the Space Center.
NASA isn’t the only test and research facility at the Space Center. Rolls-Royce tests its big commercial jet engines there, taking advantage of the vast expanse that limits noise pollution outside of the grounds.
Aerojet Rocketdyne has an assembly and testing facility here. Lockheed Martin has an advanced propulsion, thermal, and metrology facility here.
NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, has (of all things) the National Data Buoy Center facility at the Space Center.