Stennis Space Center is well known as home to NASA rocket scientists, Naval oceanographers, Navy SEALS and major aerospace companies including Lockheed Martin, Aerojet Rocketdyne and SpaceX.
With NASA as its landlord, Stennis houses more than 40 federal and state agencies, academic institutions, private organizations and technology companies that share costs to keep the Hancock County center running.
To support the various missions of its occupants, Stennis has an expansive infrastructure spread across 13,800 acres of government-owned land where rocket engine test stands, laboratories and other specialized facilities have been built since Stennis opened in the 1960s.
Stennis calls itself America’s largest rocket engine test center and puts the value of its structures at more than $2 billion.
But what happens when programs are scaled back or cancelled, leaving those structures and buildings empty or underutilized? NASA the landlord goes searching for new tenants.
Stennis and other NASA centers with underutilized facilities go through the same process, part of NASA’s strategic goal of effectively managing personnel, technical capabilities and infrastructure.
Last month the space agency put out a Request for Information to gauge interest in its available facilities and real property assets at Stennis, where testing of the space shuttle main engines ended in 2009 after 34 years.
“We’ve had the space shuttle program that kept us busy and we had multiple test stands going, but the shuttle program came to an end and testing was canceled on four of our test stands,” said Don Beckmeyer. manager of Strategic Business Development at Stennis.
Among the propulsion test facilities that could be made available to a new occupant are the A-2 test stand, capable of testing engines with up to 600,000 pounds of thrust, and the partially completed E-4 test facility with a 500,000-pound-thrust capability, part of a program that was cancelled. Also on the list is the controversial $350 million A-3 stand, which was completed at the direction of Congress even though the Constellation program it was built to support was cancelled.
NASA is also offering part of the former Mississippi Army Ammunition Plant which was closed in the 1990s. The 4,400-acre facility includes a vacant 240,000-square-foot industrial building plus warehouses, office and lab space and a nearby vacant 270,000-square-foot industrial space.
“We have other smaller buildings and acreage for a commercial industry but we would prefer a space industry” as tenants, Beckmeyer said.
NASA is seeing to it that all of the facilities and systems are maintained during down time. “Some have critical systems that we maintain. We bring those down to a state of readiness as low as we possibly can,” Beckmeyer said.
NASA said any new tenants are expected to support U.S. space exploration and commercial space launch or other commercial missions and help emerging technology companies advance space exploration.
Beckmeyer said it’s too early to tell what kind of response the RFI will generate. Site visits are being offered at the end of June to those who want to see the facilities first hand.
“We’re trying to gauge interest by opening this RFI up first to see who is out there and what they propose,” he said. “Ideally all the test stands will be occupied and all square footage occupied, but anything that goes toward that end would be good.”
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