SSC: Hitting on all cylinders
By Lisa Monti
December 2013
...STENNIS SPACE CENTER, Miss. -- It was a big win for John C. Stennis Space
Center when SpaceX, one of the hottest commercial spaceflight companies, said in
October that it would use SSC to test its next generation Raptor engine. The decision
added another commercial company to SSC’s already impressive roster of private
companies using SSC facilities to get them into space.
...Fifty years after South Mississippi was transformed by the U.S.-Soviet space race,
a new race between entrepreneurial companies promises another boost for this
unique federal center.
...The future looks bright for SSC on multiple fronts: It’s test stands, the cornerstone
of the nation’s premier rocket engine test site, are staying active as NASA eyes deep
space and the commercial space race revs up; calls are coming in about acreage
that’s available for development; the Navy, largest agency at SSC, is continuing to
increase its footprint, as is the Department of Homeland Security’s data center.
...“We’re hitting all cylinders,” said NASA’s Dr. Arlen Griffey, chief of the Stennis
center services, facility planning and utilization division. “We’re as busy as we’ve ever
...Griffey has been at SSC seven years, and his assessment counters misinformation
that on occasion floats around the community about SSC’s future.
...“There’s a fear that Stennis is slipping or we’re going to close down or something
bad is going to happen. In fact, Stennis is doing a very good job of diversifying along
with the NASA plan to support commercial space flight systems,” he said.
...The more commercial companies, the more testing is likely to be done at SSC’s
stands. But not all of it.
...“If a commercial company decides they prefer to build their own test stand
somewhere else and incur that expense, we get it,” he said. “What Stennis and the
rest of NASA is trying to do is build partnerships with commercial companies so they
can take advantage of test stands built by the federal government.”
...The nine NASA test stands come in various sizes, from large concrete and steel
structures to smaller test cells. The center’s capabilities and reputation have caught
the attention of aerospace companies.
...“A lot of people are looking at the capabilities that NASA has,” said Griffey. NASA is
looking for commercial partners to service low-earth and near-earth orbit missions
“while we, NASA, focus on more long range things,” including missions to Mars and
...“There is a new space race, It’s the commercial space race, you see it all around
you. You see it in Blue Origin and Orbital and SpaceX, but you’re watching it happen
right now,” he said.
...In addition to the new companies, SSC also has older space companies that use
SSC facilities, like Lockheed Martin and Rocketdyne.
...In addition to the commercial and NASA space activities, there are two other federal
agencies where growth is likely, according to Griffey.
...“The Navy is the largest tenant on Stennis and continues to expand out here,” he
...The Department of Homeland Security’s data center also continues to grow. The
security at SSC, not the least of which is the buffer zone, “make it an attractive
place.” he said.
...Another asset that Stennis can turn into more opportunities for growth is its 13,800
acres identified by Mississippi Power’s Project Ready program.
...“If some other federal agency or someone who fit the profile at Stennis wanted to
build a greenfield project, once an agreement is in place and if they had money, they
could start the next morning. Being certified Project Ready can take anywhere from
six to 18 months off a project,” Griffey said.
...There are a total of 5,000 acres that could be developed on Stennis for greenfield
projects, he said. Much of that returned to NASA when the Army shut down its ammo
plant in 2011. “There’s a lot of wide open space and there’s some old buildings we’re
going to take down and make more green space,” Griffey said.
...Stennis wants to find tenants to rent the ammo plant’s former warehouse,
manufacturing, laboratory and office space.
...Stennis currently has about 5,000 permanent employees, a half-and-half mix of
government and contractor personnel.
...From Griffey’s perspective, Stennis is thriving and its future looks bright.
...“We’re doing all the things a unique installation like ours should do,” he said. “We’
re expanding our federal city with things like DHS and the Navy and our primary
mission, which is the test stands.”

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