When private companies want to do business at Stennis Space Center (SSC) in Mississippi but need additional information about how to navigate the Center and Hancock County, it helps to have a guide. The Mississippi Enterprise for Technology (MSET), located within SSC, provides such businesses with the counsel they need through its Affiliate Program. One of MSET’s affiliates, Relativity Space (Relativity), is a resident at SSC and has quickly become one of the most exciting aerospace companies in the world.
Relativity, established in 2015, is a startup grown in the famed Y Combinator. Their mission: to help build humanity’s industrial base on Mars using their patented additive manufacturing process. The first step in the journey to Mars is for Relativity to design, build, test, and launch the world’s first fully 3D-printed rocket into space.
So, why did Relativity, which is headquartered in Long Beach, California, branch out at Mississippi’s SSC, and how does their presence affect the state of Mississippi? You can learn about Relativity, their facilities at SSC, and their plans for the years ahead below.
Why Commercial Businesses Test at Stennis Space Center
Stennis Space Center is the premier rocket propulsion testing facility in the country due to availability of high-quality test infrastructure including: test stands; high pressure industrial water; high pressure gas; cryogenic propellant systems; existing emergency power systems; waterway transportation; manufacturing and assembly space; and additional logistics and support services. The Center also boasts an extensive Buffer Zone that allows for 24/7 testing of large rocket hardware and contracting mechanisms that support commercial use of existing land and underutilized infrastructure.
The Stennis Space Center Buffer Zone
Relativity’s testing platforms are located within SSC’s 125,000-acre acoustical Buffer Zone. The Buffer Zone was established by NASA in the 1960s to test rockets for the Apollo Program and is now “the last place in the country where NASA can test large engines or whole rocket stages, which is critical to the future of America’s space program.” The Buffer Zone allows rocket engines emitting extreme heat and very loud, low frequency sound waves and sonic vibrations to be tested 24 hours a day, 7 days a week without impacting local communities.
NASA can partner with commercial entities like Relativity through reimbursable Space Act Agreements as well as Enhanced Use Lease Agreements. Relativity was able to leverage attractive low-cost agreements with NASA to begin testing for their Aeon 1 engine in 2016. Since that time, Relativity has expanded their business at SSC to include exclusive use of the E-4 and E-2 test stands, access to the E-1 stand, and a separate production facility less than two miles from the E-Complex.
Thanks to this partnership with NASA and the State of Mississippi, Relativity plans to invest significant capex into improving the permanent infrastructure of the test and production facilities at SSC. Other commercial companies are testing engines and components at SSC, including Aerojet Rocketdyne, Virgin Orbit, and Blue Origin.
SSC provides unique availability of world-class propulsion test infrastructure. The Center was designed for testing rockets and provides new commercial companies with a quick onramp that mitigates some capital costs associated with developing new infrastructure from scratch.
Stennis’s Joe Schuyler, director of Stennis Engineering and Test Directorate, said the following about rocket testing at Stennis in 2022:
Stennis is already on the front lines of testing to help power the nation’s deep space exploration program. In addition, more and more commercial companies are realizing the value of our unparalleled facilities, infrastructure, and test team, and bringing their test projects on site.
Commercial Business Resources
Local, state, and regional organizations have stepped in to assist Relativity’s ongoing expansion at SSC. In order for Relativity to meet their ambitious launch goals, they have to grow fast, and this requires qualified construction companies, engineers, suppliers, and more. These organizations continue to assist Relativity with connections to conduct business locally.
Mississippi Enterprise for Technology
Relativity joined MSET’s Affiliate Program in early 2022 as the company began accelerating hiring, facility expansion, and test operations at SSC. Relativity said the following about their relationship with MSET:
MSET has been helpful in spreading awareness of Relativity across the state of Mississippi to external stakeholders and prospective job candidates. MSET CEO Davis Pace has been integral in helping Relativity build a strong network of support in Hancock County and around the state to support our fast-paced, innovative and growing operations at Stennis Space Center.
Mississippi Development Authority & Hancock County
The Mississippi Development Authority, working with Hancock County and the Hancock County Port & Harbor Commission, has assisted Relativity with an ACE grant based on the company’s job and investment commitments to the state. Relativity also qualifies for the Advantage Jobs Rebate Program, which encourages businesses to create new quality jobs located within the state.
High-Tech, High-Paying Jobs
Relativity is a rapidly growing company with over 800 employees located across their locations in Long Beach, CA, Seattle, WA, Cape Canaveral, FL and Stennis Space Center, MS. The company expects to grow from 80 current employees and add several hundred new engineering and technician jobs in the coming years.
Relativity is actively hiring for dozens of new jobs and is making progress toward an expanded physical footprint to facilitate propulsion test operations for the company’s second, larger, fully reusable rocket, Terran R.
Mississippi’s investment in Relativity has resulted in numerous high-tech, high-paying jobs at SSC. Relativity is currently hiring propulsion test engineers, mechanical engineers, welders, technicians, managers, and more.
What’s Next for Relativity Space
Successful testing has concluded for Relativity’s first rocket, Terran 1, and the rocket has been shipped to Cape Canaveral for its maiden flight entitled “GLHF” (or “Good Luck, Have Fun”) later this summer. The first stage of the launch will use 9 Aeon 1 engines, and the second stage will use a single Aeon Vac engine.
At Stennis Space Center, Relativity is expanding while working on the Aeon R engine and the Terran R rocket. Relativity told MSET:
Relativity hopes to build collaborative partnerships with the state of Mississippi to encourage growth and expansion of new high-wage tech jobs in Hancock County. MSET’s work to create a vibrant commercial aerospace hub around SSC supporting Relativity’s unique approach to manufacturing and space launch will help facilitate our long-term roadmap.
Is your business interested in doing business at Stennis Space Center? Learn more about how your company can benefit from joining MSET’s Affiliate Program.