Rocket Propulsion Test Complex

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Bay Saint Louis Mississippi United State
Bay Saint Louis , Mississippi

The John C. Stennis Space Center (SSC) is a NASA rocket testing facility. It is located in Hancock County, Mississippi, on the banks of the Pearl River at the Mississippi–Louisiana border. As of 2012, it is NASA's largest rocket engine test facility. There are over 30 local, state, national, international, private, and public companies and agencies using SSC for their rocket testing facilities. Because of the importance of SSC to the US space program it has been said "...that the road to space goes through Mississippi"


The initial requirements for NASA's proposed rocket testing facility required the site to be located between the rockets' manufacturing facility at Michoud Assembly Facility in eastern New Orleans, Louisiana and the launch facility at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Also, the site required barge access as the rocket motors to be tested for Apollo were too large for overland transport.

NASA announced formation of the Mississippi Test Facility (now known as Stennis Space Center) on Oct. 25, 1961, for testing engines for the Apollo Program. A high-terrace area bordering the East Pearl River in Hancock County, Miss., was selected for its location. NASA entrusted the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers with the difficult task to procure each land parcel either by directly purchasing the land or through acquisition of a perpetual easement.

The selected area was thinly populated and met all other requirements; however before construction began, five small communities (Gainesville, Logtown, Napoleon, Santa Rosa, and Westonia), plus the northern portion of a sixth (Pearlington), and a combined population of 700 families had to be completely relocated off the facility. The effort acquired more than 3,200 parcels of privately owned land – 786 residences, 16 churches, 19 stores, three schools and a wide assortment of commercial buildings, including nightclubs and community centers. Remnants of the communities, including city streets and a one-room school house, still exist within the facility.

Rocket propulsion test complex

The Rocket Propulsion Test Complex is a rocket testing complex which was built in 1965 as a component of the John C. Stennis Space Center. The Rocket Propulsion Test Complex played an important role in the development of the Saturn V rocket. The A-1, A-2 and B-1/B-2 test stands were declared a National Historic Landmark in 1985.The NASA Engineering & Science Directorate (ESD) at SSC operates and maintains SSC's rocket test stands.

A-1 and A-2 Test stands

The smaller two of the original three test stands at Stennis Space Center, the A-1 and A-2 stands were built to test and flight-certify the second stage of the Saturn V, the S-II (pronounced "ess two"), the launch vehicle for the Apollo program. The two stands are similar steel and concrete structures are roughly 200 feet tall, and capable of withstanding thrust loads of more than 1 million pounds and temperature of up to 6,000 degrees Fahrenheit. Each test stand can provide liquid Hydrogen (LH2) and liquid oxygen (LOX)in addition to support fluids, gaseous helium (GHe), gaseous hydrogen (GH2) and gaseous nitrogen (GN2) as purge or pressurizing gasses.


On 23 April 1966 workmen at the A-2 test stand successfully captive-fired for 15 seconds the S-II-T, Structural and Dynamic Test Vehicle for the Saturn V second stage, in an all-systems test. This was the first test of a flight-weight S-II stage. The stage, largest and most powerful liquid oxygen-liquid hydrogen stage known, developed one million pounds of thrust from its five Rocketdyne J-2 engines. This test also marked the first operational use of the A-2 stand.


It was announced in 1971 that the center would be performing tests on the engines for the new Space Shuttle program (called the SSME). The A-1 and A-2 test stands, originally designed to accommodate the much larger S-II engines, were modified to accept the smaller SSME, and testing officially began on May 19, 1975 when the first such engine was tested on the A-1 stand. The center continued to test engines for the duration of the shuttle program, on the A-1 and A-2 stands with the final scheduled test occurred on July 29, 2009 on the A-2 stand.


As the shuttle program is phased out, the A-1 and A-2 test stands are seeing new use testing the next generation of rocket engines, including the J-2X engine designed to power the SLS upper stage, with the first such test occurring on December 18, 2007.

B-1/B-2 Test stand

The B-1/B-2 test stand is a dual-position, vertical, static-firing stand supporting a maximum dynamic load of 11M lbf. It was originally built in the 1960's to simultaneously test the five F-1 engines of a complete Saturn-V S1-C first stage from 1967 to 1970. During the shuttle era it was modified to test the Space Shuttle Main Engine(SSME). Stennis now leases the B-1 test position to Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne for testing of RS-68 engines for the Delta IV launch vehicle. NASA is preparing the B-2 test position to test the core stage of NASA's Space Launch System (SLS) in late 2016 and early 2017. The SLS core stage, with four RS-25D rocket engines, will be installed on the stand for propellant fill and drain testing and two hot-fire tests.


On 13 Feb 1967 Corps of Engineers personnel completed construction of the S-IC B-2 test stand at MTF.

Following an extensive systems, subsystems, and total integrated systems checkout of the B-2 test stand at MTF on March 3, 1967, workmen successfully fired the S-IC battleship/all-systems stage (S-IC-T) for 15 seconds. This S-IC-T test, the first MTF S-IC firing, proved the total compatibility of stage, mechanical support equipment, and S-IC test facilities.

E4 Test stand

In 2001 the Pentagon's Ballistic Missile Defense Organization proposed construction of a $140 million facility at Stennis H-1 test stand to test its proposed Space-Based Laser (SBL) to begin in the first quarter of fiscal year 2002. The facility was to be used to evaluate beam quality, efficiency, and power levels for a prototype megawatt-class hydrogen fluoride laser.

The location for the E4 test stand was proposed for near the H1 Test Stand was evaluated but there are no substantial utilities on the site and the gravel access road to the test stand would require improvements.

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