NASA’s Stennis Space Center teamed with Relativity Space on Sept. 7 as the company announced an expansion of site activity, signing a lease agreement to operate the historic A-2 Test Stand at the south Mississippi site near the Mississippi Gulf Coast.
The new agreement supports NASA’s commitment to increase access to space and grow commercial markets to serve the nation’s interests. It also further solidifies NASA Stennis as an ideal testing location for commercial aerospace companies, large and small.
“We applaud Relativity Space in announcing this expanded agreement,” said NASA Stennis Director Rick Gilbrech. “Since arriving on site in 2016, the company has grown into a valued member of the NASA Stennis community. This increased footprint is a testament to Relativity’s continued progress in the commercial space arena. It also is a testament to the value of NASA Stennis and our test complex infrastructure in supporting commercial space endeavors. We look forward to an ongoing relationship with Relativity team members as they work to achieve their space goals.”
Relativity Space’s latest plans at NASA Stennis will convert the A-2 Test Stand infrastructure to support advanced vertical first stage testing of the company’s medium-to-heavy-lift reusable 3D-printed rocket, Terran R.
With the redesigned stand, the company will increase its test capabilities and accelerate its development process.
“New history is being written at Stennis Space Center as we breathe life into the historic A-2 Test Stand with our Terran R program,” said Tim Ellis, co-founder and CEO of Relativity Space. “We appreciate the support from NASA and the state of Mississippi and look forward to continuing to build out our team and testing infrastructure here in the Gulf Coast. The scale of Terran R as a medium-heavy lift reusable launch vehicle is substantial. Exclusive access to these rare, national-asset facilities through partnership with NASA uniquely enables Relativity to develop a world-class launch vehicle.”
The expansion adds about 30 acres to the company’s on-site footprint, which now totals 298 acres within the NASA Stennis test complex.
The seven-year lease agreement is valued at a total of $2.76 million with an option to renew up to an additional 10 years at the end of the original term.
Overall, the company is poised to invest some $267 million into its NASA Stennis operations, creating hundreds of new jobs in the next several years.
Conversion of the A-2 Test Stand marks the third great iteration of propulsion activity for the structure. It originally was built in the 1960s to test Saturn V rocket stages for Apollo missions to the Moon.
It then was outfitted to support single-engine testing. NASA used the stand to test space shuttle main engines from 1976 to 2009.
In fact, the final main engine test of the space shuttle era was conducted on the stand in July 2009.
The stand then was used to test next-generation J-2X rocket engines from 2011-14. The latest announcement marks the stand’s first use by a commercial aerospace company in the United States.
“The A-2 Test Stand has a rich history for NASA and NASA Stennis,” Gilbrech said. “It has been the site for numerous milestone tests, including the Apollo Saturn S-II stage, space shuttle main engine, and Constellation J-2X engine test programs. It is exciting to see this historic structure continue to provide valuable propulsion service almost 60 years later.”
Relativity Space, based in Long Beach, California, originally partnered with NASA Stennis in 2016 to test its Aeon 1 engine on the site’s E-3 Test Stand.
The partnership quickly expanded, and Relativity now holds 10-year exclusive-use leases for the E-2 and E-4 stands, has a commercial use agreement for the E-1 site, and is building new engine and stage test infrastructure in the R Complex at NASA Stennis.
“This latest announcement continues a remarkable story at NASA Stennis,” said Duane Armstrong, manager of the NASA Stennis Strategic Business Development Office. “Relativity Space arrived on site less than 10 years ago with a handful of employees and a single test project. It has since emerged as a leading aerospace company.”