Ground broken at Stennis Space Center for new engine test stand

Published 3:57 pm Friday, August 24, 2007

Ground-breaking ceremonies for the new A-3 Test Stand were held at John C. Stennis Space Center on Thursday.

The new test stand, which will stand slightly more than 300 feet tall and feature an open steel frame design, is the first large stand to be built at the center since it opened in the 1960s. It is designed to test the new J-2X engine, which will power the new Ares rocket spacecrafts. The stand will allow long-duration of 550 seconds of the engine, as well as allowing the engine to be tested at sea-level.

“The purpose of this stand is to test that engine (the J-2X), is to be able to test that engine, in the environment that it’s going to fly in. And there’s not a facility that can test that engine in that environment currently. So that’s the reason we’re building a new stand, so that we can support that environment,” said Robert Ross, Department Project Manager for the A-3 Test Stand.

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“The J-2X engine has never flown before. The best way to meet the new requirements (for the new engine) is a new test stand. Currently, we cannot start the engine at sea-level without breaking the nozzle,” said Richard Gilbrech, Director of Stennis Space Center.

The Ares rockets will replace the space shuttles when they phase out of use in 2010 and are reminiscent of the original Apollo rockets that were used in the 1960’s for the first space travel and moon landings.

“The A-3 Test Stand is a testament to progress toward the future. … It will provide capabilities that are not available anywhere else on the planet,” said Scott J. “Doc” Horowitz, Associate Administrator for the Exploration Systems Mission Directorate.

“Ares is the new spacecraft of a new era. (The J-2X) is the engine to take Americans back to the moon and to Mars. We won’t make it back to the moon without it,” said NASA Deputy Administrator Shana Dale.

Several state politicians were at the groundbreaking ceremony, including Gov. Haley Barbour, U.S. Sens. Trent Lott and Thad Cochran and U.S. Rep. Gene Taylor.

“There is no better way to observe the anniversary (of Hurricane Katrina) than to continue Mississippi’s role in space exploration. It means new jobs, and also a better quality of life. We’re taking another giant leap for mankind. … I see this test stand as the doorway to the future that awaits us,” Cochran said.

Lott said he sees the test stand bringing economic growth and development to the local area as well as all of south Mississippi.

“People don’t always realize how much of an impact that the Stennis Space Center has on the Gulf Coast and Pearl River County. It has an impact on jobs, quality of jobs. It’s symbolic about the security of the future of the Stennis Space Center because this is the test stand of the future of the space exploration program,” Lott said.

Barbour agreed about the economic impact and future effect the test stand will have on south Mississippi.

“The A-3 Test Stand means that Stennis will have the mission of testing for another 30 or 40 years. That means that for another 30 or 40 years, Mississippians are going to have these high-tech, high-paying jobs. That my grandchildren will have the chance to work with Stennis just like people have worked here since the 1960s. … It’s a very, very important day for two generations in the future,” Barbour said.

“What happens here is about a better part of life. It’s not just a joyride in space. It’s better technology across the board. The test stand is a bridge into space. If you’re going to the moon or to Mars, you must go through Hancock County,” Lott said.