Officials at NASA’s John C. Stennis Space Center are reminding the public about restrictions imposed on the buffer zone lands surrounding the center. In particular, the public should note that much of the property located in the buffer zone, including multiple cemeteries and hunting camps, is privately owned and that entering that property without permission constitutes trespassing.
The 125,000-acre acoustical buffer zone surrounding Stennis was established by NASA in the 1960s to enable testing of large engines and stages of the Saturn V rocket for the Apollo Program. Following the Apollo Program missions to the moon in the late 1960s and early 1970s, all of the main engines used on 135 space shuttle missions from 1981 to 2011 were tested at Stennis Space Center. The center is preparing to test RS-25 engines that will be used to power NASA’s new Space Launch System (SLS) vehicle, which will carry humans deeper into space than ever. Stennis will also perform a series of tests on the SLS core stage as well, which will involve firing four RS-25 engines simultaneously.
Commercial engines are also tested at the NASA facility, including Aerojet Rocketdyne RS-68 engines that power the Delta IV expendable launch vehicle and Aerojet Rocketdyne AJ26 engines that power Orbital Sciences Corporation’s Antares rockets on commercial cargo missions to the International space Station.
By reducing the harmful effects of very loud, and very low-frequency, sound waves produced in the rocket testing area during engine tests, the buffer zone supports these tests and remains critical to the current and future missions of NASA and the resident agencies at Stennis Space Center, and is considered a national asset.
The buffer zone was established in the early days of the center, when property interests were acquired for the use and benefit of the United States government. The 13,800-acre fee area, or developed portion of Stennis, was purchased outright by the federal government. In addition, the government acquired a perpetual interest in some 125,442 acres to form a restrictive zone completely surrounding the fee area. The interest acquired in this additional land is referred to as a restrictive easement. This restrictive zone is what is now known as the buffer zone.
The government’s restrictive easement establishes a restricted area in, on, across and over the land in the buffer zone, giving the government the right to prohibit habitation or occupancy of dwellings and other buildings. The government also has the right to prohibit the construction of buildings allowing for, or susceptible to, habitation and reserves the right to remove structures in violation of this easement. The easement does permit other uses when those activities do not interfere with or reduce the rights of the government.
When the government acquired the restrictive easement, some property owners decided to sell their land in the buffer zone to the government, rather than sell just an easement. These limited land parcels are considered part of the government’s fee area. However, many property owners elected to sell only an easement interest to the government, and to retain their property and all other rights in that property.
In light of this fact, the public is reminded that the government’s easement limits only the ability to place habitable structures on property in the buffer zone, and that buffer zone landowners retain all other property rights. Therefore, entry onto privately-owned property in the buffer zone without permission violates those property rights and constitutes trespassing.
To keep buffer zone landowners informed, Stennis maintains a database of contact information. Landowners are asked to contact Karen Miller in the Stennis Center Operations Directorate at 228-688-1483 to update their contact information.
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