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The John C. Stennis Space Center (SSC), located in Hancock County, Mississippimarker, at the Mississippimarker-Louisianamarker border, is NASAmarker's largest rocket engine test facility.


Construction of the A-2 Test Stand
Construction of the Mississippi Test Operations complex began in October 1961. The test area (officially known as the Fee Area) is surrounded by a acoustical buffer zone. The facility's large concrete and metal test stands were originally used to test-fire the first and second stages of the Saturn V rockets. All Space Shuttle Main Engines were flight-certified at Stennis.
Shuttle main engine test in the A-1 Test Stand

In part, the site was selected because it was thinly populated and it was possible to create barge access to it — the rocket motors to be tested for Apollo were too large for overland transport. The chosen site also had to be between the Michoud Assembly Facilitymarker just east of New Orleans, Louisianamarker, where the rockets were made, and the launch facility at Cape Canaveralmarker in Florida. Before construction began, five small communities (Gainesville, Logtown, Napoleon, Santa Rosa and Westonia) with 700 families were relocated. Remnants of the communities, including city streets and a one-room school house, still exist within the facility.

With the end of the Apollo program, use of the base decreased, with economic impact to the surrounding communities. Over the years other government organizations have moved to the facility, providing a major economic benefit to the communities.

In the 1990s, a new test complex named "E" was constructed to test a variety of new engine concepts. A series of tests conducted there eventually led to the commercialization of hybrid rocket motors, one of which was used to power the first privately funded spaceship, Scaled Composites SpaceShipOne.

Two 250,000 gallon water tanks at the facility, used to test equipment for the Navy, were used to film the underwater sequences in the film Double Jeopardy.

The facility has been renamed several times, becoming the Mississippi Test Facility in 1965, the National Space Technology Laboratories in 1974, and taking its present name in 1988 in order to honor the late Mississippi Senator John C. Stennis for his unwavering support of the national space program.

The facility was damaged in late August 2005 by Hurricane Katrina. In 2007 Rolls-Royce plc opened an outdoor aero engine test facility at John C. Stennis. The test stand is built on the old H1 test bed, Rolls-Royce relocated their engine testing facility from Hucknallmarker near its main Derbymarker site in the UKmarker due to noise pollution issues.

Test stands

Test firing of a Space Shuttle main engine in the A-1 Test Stand
The Engineering & Science Directorate (ESD) at SSC operates and maintains SSC's rocket test stands.

The A-1 test stand was originally designed to test the Apollo Saturn V Second Stage (S-II). It supports a maximum dynamic load of 1.7 M lbf.

The A-2 test stand is used for Space Shuttle Main Engine testing. It supports a maximum dynamic load of 1.1 M lbf.

NASA has begun construction of the new A-3 test stand at SSC. The A-3 stand will be used for testing J-2X engines under vacuum conditions simulating high altitude operation. A-3 will also be operable as a sea-level test facility.

The B-1/B-2 test stand is a dual-position stand supporting a maximum dynamic load of 11M lbf. It is used for Delta IV rocket engine testing.

The E-Complex supports testing of small engine and single/multiple components.


The A-2 Test Stand peers out from a blanket of fog during the early morning.

In 2005, the Center was home to over 30 government agencies and private companies. By far the largest of these were elements of the United States Navy with some 3,500 personnel, which was far larger than the NASA civil servant contingent. Some of the prominent resident agencies include:


The visitor center for the Stennis Space Center is known as StenniSphere. Exhibits focus on the the activities of NASA, space, space exploration, science, geography, weather and more. Visitors 18 and over must present a photo ID.


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