NASA leases historic test stand to 3D rocket printing company

One historic piece of equipment at NASA’s Stennis Space Center is taking off on a new chapter.
Published: Sep. 7, 2023 at 9:21 PM CDT
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HANCOCK COUNTY, Miss. (WLOX) - One historic piece of NASA equipment at the Stennis Space Center is taking off on a new chapter.

The A2 Test Stand, which is a towering structure over 200 feet tall, was originally built in the 1960′s for the Apollo Program and was instrumental in putting a man on the moon.

Now, Stennis is handing the keys to the complex over to its largest commercial tenant, Relativity Space.

“It’s been a great partnership to have with them,” said Joseph Schuyler, NASA Stennis Engineering and Test Director.

Schuyler’s relationship with the 3D rocket printing company took off in 2017.

“Through the years, they’ve grown from a relatively small company to probably one of the larger commercial space companies in the country,” Schuyler said.

Under their new lease agreement, Relativity plans to invest nearly $270 million into the center for its Terran R program.

Terran R is the company’s 3D-printed and rapidly-reusable orbital launch vehicle. It is expected to take off from Florida in 2026. With it, Relativity aims to provide large constellation launch services to its customers.

“It’s a big, big rocket,” Relativity engineer Andy Guymon told WLOX. “It’s a monumental task to find a place and build a facility that can support that kind of power.”

First, Guymon said they plan to upgrade the test stand even further by more than doubling the thrust it can withstand to at least 3.3 million pounds.

“We’re just thrilled about building on the history that they’ve started and making that a part of our future,” he said. “It’s been converted over the years to support engines like the space shuttle, and we’re going to be able to return it back to its original design concept and support a stage again. So, that’s kind of a neat part of kind of getting it back to its original design.”

Guymon also mentioned the rocket industry is facing a significant shortage, which is driving demand sky-high. As of April, Relativity has a signed customer backlog of over $1.6 billion.

“These don’t grow on trees,” Guymon said. “These are hard to build from the ground up. So, being able to start on kind of a really good foundation and modify it to fit our needs is a huge key to get our rocket to market quicker. You know, we’re trying to get there before some of our competitors.”

With its new program getting underway, Relativity Space is also creating hundreds of new jobs at Stennis by 2027, according to a press release.

Job applications are now open to apply.

“This NASA mission is to help commercialize access to space,” Schuyler said. “So, even though we say, ‘Well, it’s helping them achieve their goal,’ it’s also a core piece of NASA’s goals.”

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