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NASA’s Stennis Space Center Completes Year of Testing and Site Activity

A drone image offers a bird’s-eye view of an RS-25 hot fire conducted on the Fred Haise Test Stand at NASA’s Stennis space Center on Feb. 24, 2022
Crews use a shoring system to hold back soil March 23, 2022, as they install new 75-inch piping leading from the High Pressure Industrial Water Facility to the Fred Haise Test Stand at NASA’s Stennis Space Center

A flurry of activity happened within and beyond the gates of NASA’s Stennis Space Center in 2022 as NASA continues exploring the secrets of the universe for the benefit of all.

The year began much like it will end – by testing RS-25 engines to help power NASA’s Space Launch System rocket on future deep space missions. Every RS-25 engine that will help power the SLS rocket at launch for Artemis missions will be tested at NASA Stennis, including those that will send the first woman and the first person of color to the Moon.

A welder works on modifications to the flame deflector on the Fred Haise Test Stand
Engineers and technicians at NASA’s Stennis Space Center perform a water flush of the critical FIREX system at the Fred Haise Test Stand

Between test series, NASA Stennis completed multiple upgrades to the Fred Haise Test Stand uniquely tailored for the RS-25 testing effort. The projects included installation of new test stand piping, drilling a special flame bucket hole pattern to help cool RS-25 engine exhaust, and updating the stand’s thrust vector control and data acquisition systems.

A critical component needed for future testing in support of NASA’s Artemis missions to the Moon and beyond arrives at the B-2 Test Stand at NASA’s Stennis Space Center

Additionally, a vital component needed for Green Run testing of the Exploration Upper Stage to be used on future Artemis missions arrived at the B-2 Test Stand at NASA Stennis as teams continued preparation work.

At the same time, there was some notable testing activity in the NASA Stennis E Test Complex. NASA led and supported testing at the E-1 Test Stand and E-3 Test Stand for commercial companies such as Relativity Space, Blue Origin, Launcher Inc., Ursa Major, and Virgin Orbit.  The NASA Stennis team conducted campaigns to test a range of rocket engine components throughout the year, and operations and design work for existing and new partners also is underway to support E Test Complex projects in 2023.

On another front, the Autonomous Systems Laboratory (ASL) at NASA Stennis continues to be a leader in the design and deployment of autonomous systems. NASA Stennis is working with other agency centers to create a concept for a lunar rover that will autonomously mine lunar raw materials for processing and use on the Moon. As one member of the ASL team shared in a media interview, NASA is a place for people of all backgrounds to contribute as the agency inspires the world through discovery.

In 2022, the Strategic Business Development Office continued its work to promote the NASA Stennis federal city model and attract new companies on site. The center also received a prestigious agency award for its work as a leader in sustainability and energy use reduction.

A drone image shows an area at NASA’s Stennis Space Center under development by Relativity Space.
Officials cut the ribbon during a Nov. 4 ceremony marking an agreement for Rocket Lab USA to locate its new engine test complex at NASA’s Stennis Space Center

Meanwhile, Relativity Space set a testing milestone in its work at Stennis, then announced plans to expand its presence at the south Mississippi site. Aerospace company Rocket Lab also agreed to locate its engine test complex on site as NASA Stennis continues to be a model of government efficiency.

A young visitor tries out the astronaut glove exhibit at INFINITY Science Center
Stennis Space Center Director Rick Gilbrech delivers an annual site report to community leaders at INFINITY Science Center on May 4, 2022
A representative from NASA’s Stennis Space Center teaches pre-K students at the Hattiesburg Early Learning Collaborative about life in space during a site outreach activity

The story of NASA Stennis continued to be shared through outreach events to a wide and diverse audience in 2022. In addition, people from all walks of life continued to visit INFINITY Science Center, which celebrated its 10th anniversary as the official NASA Stennis visitors center.

The year also was highlighted by the first in-person Space Sprouts event hosted in Hattiesburg for one of the largest pre-K programs in Mississippi. NASA Stennis launched Space Sprouts to reach preschool students and spur early interest in space and STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math). Along the same lines, the ASTRO CAMP® Program launched at Stennis set new highs for participants as it expanded its national and global reach.

All in all, the past year added a new chapter to the NASA Stennis history books even as the center set its sights squarely on moving forward into the future.

C. Lacy Thompson
Stennis Space Center, Bay St. Louis, Mississippi