Stennis Space Center cuts ribbon on SpaceX Raptor rocket testing facility

The engines which propelled Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins to the moon on Apollo XI were tested at Stennis Space Center in Hancock County.

One day, Stennis may also test the engines which take man to Mars.

At least that’s the hope of Stennis, SpaceX and other officials who gathered to cut the ribbon Monday afternoon on the SpaceX rocket testing program at the NASA facility.

SpaceX will conduct initial testing of its Raptor methane rocket at Stennis.

Calling space an “unforgiving business,” Stennis Director Rick Gilbrech said SpaceX was a welcome addition to NASA’s growing commercial spaceflight contracts.

“We’ve been in the commercial market for a decade now and we’re pleased to welcome SpaceX here,” Gilbrech said.

Gilbrech was joined for the ceremony by SpaceX President/COO Gywnne Shotwell, U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran, Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant and U.S. Rep. Steven Palazzo.

The SpaceX Raptor engine program represents the latest in propulsion technology and will produce the largest methane/LOX engines in U.S. history. Raptor engine components will be tested at the E-2 test stand at Stennis, which SpaceX upgraded with methane capability under an agreement with NASA.

The stand is now one of the most sophisticated high-pressure testing facilities in the world and capable of supporting testing by a wide variety of users. It will remain the property of Stennis.

Shotwell said her company has been “aggressive” in its approach to manned space flight and eventual manned flights to Mars. She said she hopes to see major strides in that direction over the “next 13-15 years.”

She also said some 15-20 people will work on the Raptor testing at Stennis, but hopes to grow that number as testing expands.

Palazzo noted the U.S. is currently paying Russia some $70 million per flight to take an American to the International Space Station.

“If we are serious about once again launching American astronauts on American rockets from American soil, we need to focus on NASA’s budget,” Palazzo said.

Cochran called Stennis a “unique national asset” because of its partnerships between the public and private sector and praised SpaceX for its work.