Old munitions plant at NASA Stennis now will be used to build rockets with 3D printing

From Mississippi to the moon and Mars

Outgoing NASA Administrator Charles Bolden tells how Stennis Space Center in Mississippi plays a forceful part in the mission to Mars.
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Outgoing NASA Administrator Charles Bolden tells how Stennis Space Center in Mississippi plays a forceful part in the mission to Mars.

A California rocket company announced Tuesday that it plans to build and test rockets at NASA Stennis Space Center in Hancock County, part of its bid to use three-dimensional metal printing to reduce the complexity of rocket building.

Los Angeles-based Relativity said that it would invest $59 million, with a plan to increase to 200 workers from 90 current employees.

The company will lease space from NASA at Stennis Space Center, which has long hosted rocket tests.

State and local governments are likely to give Relativity more than $4.7 million in aid and tax breaks over the next 10 years as part of the deal.

Mississippi Development Authority spokeswoman Tammy Craft says the state will give the company $1.5 million to renovate a building. Relativity will also be eligible to have the state rebate a portion of worker income taxes because it will pay workers more than $37,000 a year on average. That could be worth $2.8 million over 10 years. The state will also grant the company a 10-year exemption from income and franchise taxes, as well as sales taxes on construction and equipment.

Hancock County Port & Harbor Commission Chief Development Officer Janel Carothers said the company could be eligible for up to $400,000 in property tax exemptions over 10 years.

The facility will be in the former Mississippi Army Ammunition Plant that opened in 1983, according to a report from the U.S. Army. It had 1,831 employees by 1989, just before production ended in 1992. The property was to NASA in 2011, but hasn’t been used.

“Signing of our first CSLA (Commercial Space Launch Act) agreement with Relativity Space opens yet another avenue for commercial customers to perform cost-efficient engine testing at Stennis,” said Richard Gilbrech, director of Stennis Space Center.

Relativity plans to build rockets through three-dimensional metal printing, saying that process will allow it to make rockets in less than 60 days. The company also is developing its own rockets and engines. Relativity hopes for an orbital test launch in 2020 and to begin commercial service in 2021, launching from Cape Canaveral in Florida.

“The integration of our 3D printing rocket production and testing facilities on one site will enable Relativity to offer greater flexibility to commercial and government entities needing faster, more frequent and lower cost access to space.“ said Jordan Noone, cofounder and chief technical officer of Relativity.