New history being written at Mississippi’s space center

Published 8:54 pm Monday, September 11, 2023

Relativity Space, the preeminent 3D printed rocket company, has signed an enhanced use lease agreement (EULA) on the vertical test stand at the A-2 complex within NASA’s historic Stennis Space Center in Hancock County, Mississippi. The agreement marks the first time a commercial tenant has modernized an underutilized legacy test stand at NASA Stennis, signifying the strength of the public-private partnership between the two entities. The expansion brings Relativity’s total footprint at NASA Stennis to nearly 300 acres – the largest commercial presence on the site.

Established in the 1960s, NASA Stennis is the nation’s largest and most prestigious propulsion test center. The A-2 Test Stand was constructed in 1966 to test and flight-certify the second stage of the Saturn V, the launch vehicle for the Apollo Program. It was then used for engine testing for the Space Shuttle Program until 2009. Briefly used for the Constellation Program before its cancellation, the A-2 stand has sat unused for nearly a decade. Relativity is spurring its rejuvenation, bringing state-of-the-art testing back to the stand. The company has plans to invest $267 million into Stennis and create hundreds of new jobs in the region by 2027 to support the Terran R program development and launch ramp rate.

“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. Together with our significant private capital commitments to reinvigorate these facilities, we are building innovative capabilities to solidify America’s leadership in space.”

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Building on the legacy of the A-2 stand, Relativity’s new infrastructure will support advanced vertical first stage testing for their medium-to-heavy lift reusable 3D printed rocket, Terran R. With a new stand, the company will be able to uplevel their cadence of testing, increasing the speed of iterative learning cycles and shortening time to market. The existing presence of commodities and convenient canal access further aid in rapid development, solidifying NASA Stennis as an ideal testing location.

“We applaud Relativity Space in announcing this expanded agreement. Since arriving on site in 2016, the company has grown into a valued member of the NASA Stennis community,” said Dr. Rick Gilbrech, Director of NASA’s Stennis Space Center. “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.”

Originally designed to withstand maximum thrust of 1.5 million pounds, the A-2 Test Stand is currently configured to endure thrust up to only 650,000 pounds. With Relativity’s upgrades, the stand will be able to accommodate thrust of over 3.3 million pounds – bringing A-2 back to the forefront of America’s commercial space program.

In addition to developing the A-2 site, Relativity holds ten-year exclusive-use leases with the option for 10-year extensions on the E-2 and E-4 stands, has a commercial use agreement for the E-1 site, and is building out new engine and stage test infrastructure in the R Complex at NASA Stennis – with an ever-growing permanent team leading test operations. The company is actively hiring in the region, looking to increase their Gulf Coast presence.

“Mississippi’s economy is growing stronger every day thanks to Stennis Space Center and companies like Relativity,” said Governor Tate Reeves. “Our state is at the forefront of innovation, and we are helping to lead the way in commercial space technology. Congratulations to Relativity on this historic groundbreaking.”

“This investment in Stennis Space Center shows that the road to space still goes through Hancock County, Mississippi,” said Senator Roger Wicker. “Our state is a leader in innovation and research, and this announcement is a testament to the work that occurs here. I appreciate the partnership of companies like Relativity Space who are helping Mississippi stay at the leading edge.”

“The A-2 test stand at Stennis Space Center has a long and storied history as part of the U.S. space program, and the agreement with Relativity Space will extend that record,” said Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith. “I look forward to seeing how this lease with NASA will build on Mississippi’s reputation as being home to cutting edge rocket and engine development.”

“The partnership between Relativity and Stennis Space Center has brought great jobs to our state while continuing South Mississippi’s legacy of spaceflight innovation,” said Congressman Mike Ezell. “I congratulate both Relativity and Stennis on the expansion of the partnership, and I’m excited to see what the future holds.”