|From Lunar Pioneer
J.R. WELSH Sun Herald
Biloxi-Gulfport and South Mississippi
A massive steel structure jutting into the sky not far from Interstate 10 is sending the world a message: NASA is taking the next step in hurtling humans back to the moon.
Structural work was recently finished on the giant A-3 test stand. Now, things are moving further along in the construction phase.
In April Lafayette Steel Erector of Louisiana put the final steel beam on top of the towering test stand and bolted the beam in place, bearing the signatures of project team members. “We’re now 235 feet closer to going back to the moon,” A-3 project manager Lonnie Dutreix said.
The test stand has a final completion date of May 2011. Steel for the project began arriving at Stennis in October 2008 — enough to build 16 phases on foundations and footings that were placed in 2007. All told, four million pounds of fabricated steel were used.
With the steel skeleton erected, further work has begun. “We’re now working on general construction,” said Chris McGee, NASA’s news chief at Stennis.
The general construction package was awarded to Roy Anderson Corp., of Gulfport.
It cannot exceed $45 million, McGee said, and includes general mechanical and electrical support for the A-3. Work also is progressing on nearby canal docks that will allow materials to be brought to the test site, and work is under way on underground utilities.
When completed, the stand will be serviced by nine water storage tanks, each holding 35,000 gallons.
The test stand is an integral part of NASA’s new Constellation Program, which will take Americans back to the moon and possibly beyond. When completed, the A-3 stand will test J-2X engines that will propel the Ares I crew launch vehicle and the Ares V cargo launch vehicle.
NASA has tested space flight engines for many years, but the new stand was necessary to achieve the height simulations needed in the Constellation Program. The A-3 can simulate altitudes up to 100,000 feet and can withstand a million pounds of thrust. The J-2X is expected to produce less than 294,000 pounds of thrust; however, the extra capability was built into the A-3 to accommodate more powerful engines in the future.
Stennis, with its 125,000-acre acoustical buffer zone, was selected by NASA in the 1960s as an engine test site, specifically because of its space and isolation. The first test stand was used to test the Saturn V rocket for the Apollo Program. In the 1970s, Stennis began testing space shuttle main engines.
Aside from Steel Erector Inc., companies involved in the A-3 work have included prime contractor IKBI, of Choctaw, Miss., and Prospect Steel Co. of Little Rock. Prospect handled the steel fabrication work.