In the 1960s, NASA’s John C. Stennis Space Center, all but hidden away in the piney woods of south Mississippi, built a reputation of excellence in testing the massive first and second stages of the Saturn rocket for the nation’s Apollo Program.

Mike McKinion (left) and Luke Scianna, both Jacobs Technology Facility Operating Services Contract Group employees at Stennis, monitor the facility and surrounding area on the Real-time Emergency Action Coordination Tool (REACT). The system was developed by a Mississippi company, in partnership with NASA, to facilitate coordinated response during emergency and disaster situations.

Beginning in 1975, the center firmly positioned itself as the nation’s premier rocket engine test facility with its testing of the highly sophisticated space shuttle main engine. With the end of the Space Shuttle Program, Stennis now is focused on maintaining and extending its record of engine testing excellence. The facility is partnering with commercial companies in their spaceflight projects, as well as providing testing for the next-generation J-2X rocket engine that will power humans beyond low-Earth orbit into deep space once more.

Sealevel testing of the engine is under way on Stennis’ A-2 Test Stand. The A-1 Test Stand is being modified to test the J-2X power pack, and center employees are continuing construction of a new A-3 Test Stand that will allow simulated high-altitude testing of the new engine. Testing of Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne’s RS-68 engine continues on Stennis’ B-1/B-2 Test Stand. In another commercial partnership, testing of the Aerojet AJ26 engine for Orbital Sciences Corporation is ongoing on the E-1 Test Stand. At the same time, engineers at the E-2 and E-3 test stands are actively involved in testing related to the construction of the A-3 Test Stand. E-3 engineers have focused on sub-scale diffuser testing, providing critical data on design issues for the full-scale diffuser needed on the A-3 stand. Employees at the E-2 stand are testing chemical steam generators (CSGs) that will be used on the new stand to create a vacuum that allows for testing at simulated altitudes up to 100,000 feet.

Workers at Stennis install a 35,000-gallon liquid oxygen tank atop the steel structure of the new A-3 Test Stand. The stand is being built to conduct simulated high-altitude testing on nextgeneration rocket engines that could carry humans into deep space.

CSGs have been used in such a way elsewhere, but the A-3 Test Stand configuration is unparalleled. A network of 27 CSGs will be used on the new stand, which is set for activation in 2013. When complete, the stand will feature technologies and capabilities found nowhere else in the country – the ability to perform full-duration test firings on full-scale engines at such simulated high altitudes.

Excelling in rocket engine test technology and work is a pattern at Stennis. When concerns about a space shuttle flow control valve threatened to delay the launch of Discovery on the STS-119 mission in February 2009, Stennis engineers quickly assembled a configuration to perform almost 200 velocity and damage tests that provided critical data and set the mission on course for launch. The same year, they tested a new glass bubble insulation to reduce boil-off in liquid hydrogen tanks, paving the way to increase the efficiency of new cryogenic tanks and to allow the retrofit of old tanks. Likewise, in April 2010, engineers at Stennis’ E-3 Test Stand conducted 32 launch acoustics tests, providing valuable data on liftoff acoustics that will be used on future space vehicles.

Engineers and researchers also continue work on an Integrated System Health Management concept that will provide decidedly high-tech systems monitoring for the American space program. The concept is designed to offer engineers a highly integrative means of monitoring various systems that can detect anomalies, diagnose causes, predict future anomalies, and provide advice for improved operations.

Science Research

A plume of steam signals a successful start of the J-2X rocket engine on the A-2 Test Stand at Stennis on July 26, 2011. The 3.7-second firing was one in a series of scheduled tests on the next-generation engine, which is being developed for NASA by Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne.

Stennis also is a frontline NASA facility for Earth science research, providing invaluable assistance to a range of Gulf of Mexico groups and efforts. The NASA Applied Sciences Program created the Gulf of Mexico Initiative in 2007 “to enhance the region’s ability to recover from the devastating hurricanes of 2005 and to address its coastal management issues going into the future.” The initiative utilizes NASA Earth science assets to address regional priorities defined by the Gulf of Mexico Alliance, a partnership of the states of Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas, and 13 federal agencies focused on enhancing the ecological and economic health of the Gulf of Mexico.

Stennis’ Applied Science and Technology Project Office (ASTPO) manages the Gulf of Mexico Initiative for the Applied Sciences Program. The organization focuses on transferring results of NASA’s Earth science research projects from the lab into the real world. ASTPO works with partners to demonstrate how NASA’s Earth science assets can address societal issues. Using expertise in the fields of remote sensing, oceanography, coastal processes, signal processing, and mathematical modeling, efforts are directed at addressing such issues as water quality for healthy beaches and shellfish beds, wetland and coastal conservation and restoration, environmental education, identification and characterization of gulf habitats, reducing nutrient inputs to coastal ecosystems, and coastal community resilience.

Stennis also has focused on green technologies, evidenced on one front by exceeding the federal energy intensity reduction requirement for two consecutive years. In 2010, it was the only NASA facility to exceed the target of a 15 percent reduction in energy use, recording a 19.4 percent drop.

Construction of the INFINITY at Stennis continues, with a scheduled opening set for 2012. The 72,000- square-foot center will feature science and Earth galleries to showcase the science that underpins missions of the resident agencies at Stennis.

A prime example of the Stennis work is found in the center’s research regarding water hyacinths, long viewed as a prolific, virtually indestructible threat to the vitality of rivers and streams. However, Stennis researchers have identified a beneficial side to the plant: to absorb and digest wastewater pollutants and convert sewage flows into relatively clean water. Through research begun in 1975 and performed at the Stennis sewage lagoon, researchers are helping communities put water hyacinths to productive community use.

Following the devastation of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Stennis partnered with an outside company through NASA’s Innovation Partnerships Program to develop a state-of-the-art Realtime Emergency Action Coordination Tool (REACT). The system incorporates maps, reports, Internet-driven data and real-time sensor input into a geographical information system (GIS)-based display to provide organizations and officials with comprehensive information during emergency and disaster situations. The REACT system has proven so effective that it has been adopted in all NASA centers and by various communities in the Louisiana-Mississippi region.

Beginning in 2012, such cutting-edge expertise and technology by Stennis researchers and engineers will be on full display in the science and education facility under construction at the Interstate 10 exit leading to Stennis. The 72,000-square-foot INFINITY at NASA Stennis Space Center will feature space and Earth galleries to showcase the science and technology that underpins missions of the agencies at Stennis.

More Information

For information about Stennis Space Center, visit www.nasa.gov/centers/stennis .


NASA Tech Briefs Magazine

This article first appeared in the November, 2011 issue of NASA Tech Briefs Magazine.

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