Hancock County

Mississippi National Guard will have its own Space Force, governor announces at Infinity

Gov. Phil Bryant made some out-of-this-world announcements at a press conference Monday at Infinity Science Center.

He signed executive order 1445, establishing a Space Force within the Mississippi Army National Guard.

Maj. Gen. Janson Boyles, adjutant general for the state and commanding general of the Mississippi Army and Air National Guard, said several states are establishing a Space Force and some are already running missions. In Mississippi, he said those missions could be related to intelligence or mechanical equipment used in space.

Bryant also named Patrick Scheuermann, former director of Stennis Space Center, to head the Space Commercialization Initiative for the state. He will be working with Mississippi Development Authority full-time to position the state as a leader for the next space race.

“Space is a cold and lonely place,” Scheuermann said. Mississippi has been there since Day 1 — with every rocket that ever powered an American into space tested at Stennis — and he said the last thing Mississippi wants to do is be left out in the cold as America returns to space.

Bryant said these directives position Mississippi as a leader in space “protection, commercialization and exploration.” Boyles said Bryant approached him 30 days ago about creating a Space Force, and Scheuermann said it was just 25 days ago Bryant asked him to lead the state’s space initiative.

Monday’s news comes after last month’s announcement that Relativity Space will invest $59 million at Stennis Space Center and print 3D rocket engines there.

Jordan Noone, co-founder and chief technical officer of Relativity Space, said 10 people are working in Mississippi now as they begin operations. “We’re looking to grow that to 190,” he said.

The 3D printer will build an engine in about 30 days and be ready from print to launch in 60 days at “comparable if not higher quality,” he said, and at two- to three-times lower cost. That compares to 18 months it takes to build an engine by traditional methods.

Noone, who is 26, said he couldn’t even dream of doing this when he was a kid because the technology didn’t exist. The buffer zone at Stennis Space Center is the only place where his company can test engines 24 hours a day, seven days a week he said.

These announcements come 50 years to the month after Apollo 11 landed on the moon. Rick Gilbrech, director of Stennis Space Center, said Mississippi needs to make sure people are aware of the Stennis buffer zone, which he said is “unique in the country,” and the enhanced test stands that are testing rockets for NASA and commercial space companies.

This is the commercialization of space so many people are talking about, Bryant said. “We’re going to be part of it,” he said. He envisions a Space Force the size of Keesler Air Force Base, he said, and investment like Mississippi makes in shipbuilding.

What these announcements mean for local residents are more opportunities for young people to find good jobs at home, said Mike McDaniel, general manager at Aerojet Rocketdyne Stennis. While some of these are high-tech jobs and require an advanced degree, “About 50% of the jobs are not degree jobs,” he said.

The state will be looking for people working in intelligence, rockets or cyber operations to join the force, Boyles said.

One of the next big steps for Mississippi is test firing four rockets at once for NASA’s Space Launch System that will take Americans back into deep space, back to the moon and eventually on to Mars. The engines could be ready to test at the end of 2019 or in 2020, he said.

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Mary Perez is the business and casino reporter for the Sun Herald and also writes about Biloxi, jobs and the new restaurants and development coming to the Coast. She is a fourth-generation journalist.