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Rocket testing for NASA’s new program being done at Stennis

Ready to live on the moon? That futuristic-sounding concept may not be so far away according to National Aeronautics & Space Administration’s (NASA’s) Constellation Program.

For this program, NASA is developing new spacecraft that will transport humans and cargo to establish colonies on the moon and possibly journey beyond. The Constellation Program builds on technologies of the Apollo and Space Shuttle programs. The new spacecraft, Ares I, Ares V and Orion, will replace the space shuttle, which will retire in 2010.

Mississippi’s Stennis Space Center is an integral part of the Constellation Program and America’s entire space program as it has been since its establishment in the 1960s. The sprawling Hancock County facility has responsibility for testing the new spacecraft, Ares I, Ares V and Orion.

Stennis Space Center director Gene Goldman says the test facility has begun a new chapter in its operational history with the testing of the Constellation Program.

“Testing the propulsion systems for the Ares rockets is absolutely critical to the success of NASA’s Constellation Program,” he said. “Stennis Space Center is the only place in the United States capable of long duration testing for the large engines and stages that will be required to propel our nation’s astronauts on their journey to the moon.”

There are some differences in testing rockets for this program and what Stennis Space Center has done in the past. The center was built for the purpose of testing rocket propulsion systems. All the engines and stages that took astronauts to the moon during the Apollo Program were tested at Stennis, and every shuttle astronaut has ridden to space on engines tested there.

“The same will hold true for Constellation astronauts,” He said. “There was an old saying in the 1960s that you couldn’t get to the moon without going through Hancock County, Miss. That adage still rings true today.

“The biggest difference is we are currently building a new test stand to test the J-2X engine for the Ares rockets. This test stand, the A-3, will have the capability of simulating altitudes of up to 100,000 feet, something we were not able to do before.”

Built to support new requirements for the Ares vehicles, the A-3 test stand is the first new test stand built at Stennis since the center’s opening. The upper stage of the Ares I and the Earth departure stage of Ares V will be powered by the J-2X engine, which will be required to start in space. By simulating altitudes up to 100,000 feet, the new test stand will create conditions similar to those the engines will experience in space.

“We have already tested components for the J-2X engine using heritage Apollo hardware,” Goldman said. “Data from those tests is being used to meet performance requirements of the J-2X engine for the Constellation Program. Once the actual J-2X components are fabricated and assembled, that hardware is scheduled to be tested in 2010.”

Testing of the full J-2X engine is scheduled for 2011. Stennis will be responsible for testing engines and engine components of the Ares rockets throughout the life of the Constellation Program.

As of Nov. 30, 2008, Stennis Space Center employed 273 civil service employees and 1,464 contractors. Work for the Constellation Program will be accomplished with this workforce, Goldman said.

In addition to rocket testing, the center will lead the development, certification and acceptance testing for the upper stage engine, Ares V core booster and Earth departure stages; testing for flight upper stage assembly; support Altair descent stage propulsion testing; support design, development, testing and evaluation of propellant test and delivery systems; and support flight performance systems integration and systems engineering processes and tools.

Other responsibilities include integrating and coordinating propulsion test activities with the rocket propulsion test management board and supporting the refinement and design of future elements.

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynn Lofton at llofton656@aol.com.

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