HANCOCK COUNTY, MS (WLOX) - The future of rocket testing at Stennis Space Center in South Mississippi will focus on private space missions, along with NASA's agenda.
President Barack Obama plans to alter NASA's mission to include commercial space transportation. That's just the course leaders at Stennis Space Center say they've plotted for years. The director says flexibility equals survival.
The new rocket test stand under construction at Stennis is supposed to test NASA's new J2X engine. Changes in NASA's mission could change that plan, and Stennis officials say that's okay.
"If that's not the engine selected, we can test other engines," Engineer Lionel Dutreix said. "We can also partner with commercial industry."
Later this month, Stennis will test the Aerojet AJ26 for a private company. Orbital Sciences Corporation will use it to shuttle supplies to the International Space Station.
"We're actually in the end of the Shuttle program that we saw coming six or seven or ten years ago," said Stennis Director Patrick Scheuermann. "We started to diversify back then and ensure that these nationally unique test stands are available to any and all customers, commercial, military or NASA engines."
Stennis officials say by diversifying their customer list they are making sure tax money used to build the test stands doesn't go to waste.
"We never forget that there were five towns that were moved off this site to create what is now Stennis Space Center," said Scheuermann. "So at every turn when we have a chance to maximize the infrastructure and the sacrifices that were made back in the early 60s, we do it every time."
"That's the beauty of having the asset here," Dutreix said. "We've got sea level testing here. We've got passive diffuser altitude testing here, and we've got active altitude testing all in one spot with all the test crews to support it."
Stennis is also supporting the thousands of workers in the community who depend on the space center for jobs. The director said, so far, Stennis has been spared the amount of layoffs seen at other NASA sites.
"In relative numbers, we don't compare at all to Kennedy Space Center, Marshall Space Center, Huntsville or Johnson Space Center in Texas. Even the Michoud Center in New Orleans," said Scheuermann. "Because we don't have the numbers of people working in the space program here to do the space shuttle main engine program for the last 30 years."
Stennis officials say because there are no flight engines in the test stands right now, crews are able to do major upgrades and repairs that they otherwise would not have time to do.