Relativity Space leases historic NASA test stand to boost development of AM engine powered Terran R

September 13, 2023

September 13, 2023

Rendering of Terran R's first stage on the A-2 Test Stand at NASA's Stennis Space Center (Courtesy Relativity Space)
Rendering of Terran R’s first stage on the A-2 Test Stand at NASA’s Stennis Space Center (Courtesy Relativity Space)

Relativity Space, based in Long Beach, California, USA, has signed an enhanced use lease agreement (EULA) for the vertical test stand at the A-2 complex within NASA’s historic Stennis Space Center in Hancock County, Mississippi, USA. The company has plans to invest $267 million into the site to support the development and launch ramp rate of the Terran R programme.

Relativity’s new infrastructure will support advanced vertical first stage testing for their medium-to-heavy lift reusable additively manufactured rocket, Terran R, first announced in 2021. With the new stand, the company will be able to increase the cadence of testing, thereby enhancing the speed of iterative learning cycles and shortening the time to market. The existing presence of commodities and convenient canal access further aid in rapid development, solidifying NASA Stennis as an ideal testing location.

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The A-2 Test Stand was built in 1966 to test and flight-certify the second stage of the Saturn V, the launch vehicle for the Apollo Program. It was then used for engine testing for the Space Shuttle Program until 2009. Although briefly used for the Constellation Program before its cancellation, the A-2 stand has remained unused for nearly a decade. With this expansion, Relativity now occupies nearly 300 acres at NASA Stennis, making it the largest commercial presence on the site.

“New history is being written at Stennis Space Center as we breathe life into the historic A-2 Test Stand with our Terran R program,” shared Tim Ellis, Co-Founder and CEO of Relativity Space. “We appreciate the support from NASA and the state of Mississippi and look forward to continuing to build out our team and testing infrastructure here in the Gulf Coast. The scale of Terran R as a medium-heavy lift reusable launch vehicle is substantial. Exclusive access to these rare, national-asset facilities through partnership with NASA uniquely enables Relativity to develop a world-class launch vehicle. Together with our significant private capital commitments to reinvigorate these facilities, we are building innovative capabilities to solidify America’s leadership in space.”

Thirteen additively manufactured Aeon R rocket engines (above) power the first stage of the Terran R, with the additively manufactured Aeon Vac engine used for the second stage (Courtesy Relativity Space)
Thirteen additively manufactured Aeon R rocket engines (above) power the first stage of the Terran R, with the additively manufactured Aeon Vac engine used for the second stage (Courtesy Relativity Space)

The A-2 Test Stand was originally designed to withstand a maximum thrust of 1.5 million pounds. Currently, its configuration only allows for a maximum thrust of 650,000 pounds. However, with Relativity’s upgrades, the stand will be able to accommodate thrust of over 3.3 million pounds, once again bringing A-2 to the forefront of America’s commercial space programme.

“We applaud Relativity Space in announcing this expanded agreement. Since arriving on site in 2016, the company has grown into a valued member of the NASA Stennis community,” Dr Rick Gilbrech, Director of NASA’s Stennis Space Center, commented. “This increased footprint is a testament to Relativity’s continued progress in the commercial space arena. It also is a testament to the value of NASA Stennis and our test complex infrastructure in supporting commercial space endeavours. We look forward to an ongoing relationship with Relativity team members as they work to achieve their space goals.”

In addition to developing the A-2 site, Relativity holds ten-year exclusive use leases on the E-2 and E-4 stands, with the option for 10-year extensions. The company also has a commercial use agreement for the E-1 site and is constructing new engine and stage test infrastructure in the R Complex at NASA Stennis. They have a growing permanent team that will lead test operations, and the company is actively hiring in the region to increase their Gulf Coast presence.

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September 13, 2023

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