Explorers Find Success in Mississippi’s Space Coast

April 5, 2019

Hancock County, Mississippi, has become a preferred site
for innovation and exploration


HANCOCK COUNTY, Miss. — The Hancock County Port and Harbor Commission (HCPHC) released highlights of its efforts to expand and strengthen the region’s economy for Fiscal Year 2019. The projects, initiatives and investments characterize the work of the county’s multi-faceted economic-development team to position Hancock County as Mississippi’s Space Coast.

“Few communities can boast and offer space-exploration assets like ours,” said Bill Cork, CEO of HCPHC, “and private companies are beginning to take advantage of those amenities. We were thrilled to see major announcements from top-tier commercial space and aviation companies here in our community. Each announcement further solidifies our position as Mississippi’s Space Coast.”

The region has been home to aviation and space exploration for much of the 20th century. What began with the federal government more than 50 years ago continues with innovative private-industry players such as Aerojet Rocketdyne, Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Relativity Space, Rolls-Royce, and Tyonek Services Group. These expansions and new arrivals are highlighted by several recent major space and aviation announcements.

Stratolaunch, famous for owning the largest fixed-wing aircraft ever built, recently completed the first hot-fire test of a full-scale rocket engine component known as the preburner, a major milestone in the development of any launch vehicle or propulsion system. The testing, which took place at the E1 Stand at Stennis Space Center (SSC), was made possible through the Space Act Agreement between Stratolaunch and SSC, which covers “reimbursable testing and related support services to Stratolaunch to support propulsion, vehicle, and ground support system development and testing activities.”

Relativity Space, a small launch company that is entirely reimagining a process to iterate and scale rockets quickly and build the future of humanity in space. The company is developing and testing enough engines to build 36 rockets a year, under an agreement with Stennis Space Center. “Our partnership with Stennis and the support of Hancock County have been critical to our growth since our founding,” said Tim Ellis, Relativity CEO. “When it comes to rocket-engine testing and development, southern Mississippi's history, expertise, and infrastructure are unparalleled. We're looking forward to building an even closer relationship with the region in the years ahead."

Tyonek, a longtime Hancock County company, has been awarded a $16 million contract to provide integration services of the Health and Usage Monitoring System (HUMS) for UH-1N aircraft for Robins Air Force Base in Georgia. Verification and validation efforts of the integration will be performed at the company's state-of-the-art aircraft-modification plant at the Stennis International Airport.

In addition, HCPHC has put the wheels in motion to apply for a spaceport license for Stennis International Airport (KHSA). The Launch Site Operator License application, to be filed with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Office of Commercial Space Transportation, would enable horizontally deployed reusable launch vehicles to operate out of Stennis Airport. This could open the door to commercial space flight from the airport.

To ensure Hancock County remains competitive, HCPHC and its federal partners made important infrastructure investments totaling nearly $35 million for 2018-19. Part of this investment was purchasing nearly 1,200 acres at Stennis Airport to prevent encroachment and provide additional acreage for development.

All these announcements take advantage of Hancock County’s ability to position companies for success by matching them with unparalleled sites and infrastructure, cost-saving opportunities, and especially with next-generation talent.

“We know to stay competitive with surrounding communities we must also invest in our talent pipeline,” Cork said. “Hancock County, for instance, has joined the growing list of communities earning ACT Work Ready Community status to develop a more productive workforce and encourage economic growth.”

The county and region also offer companies of all sizes the skilled talent needed to succeed. The growing pipeline of available talent includes nearly 13,000 workers in advanced industry fields, as well as five universities and 16 community colleges offering more than 280 programs related to aerospace.

For example, Pearl River Community College has a for-credit program in Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS). This program is supported by Tyonek Services Group (TSG) in its efforts to develop a workforce for the emerging, fast-growing UAS industry.

HCPHC remains committed to fostering investment in business, infrastructure and talent in 2019. The Commission and its partners will strive to advance client-focused programs for additional growth by investing in innovation, sites and talent.


As the economic development authority for Hancock County, Mississippi, the Hancock County Port and Harbor Commission owns and operates Port Bienville Industrial Park and Stennis International Airport — in addition to fostering business investment for John C. Stennis Space Center, NASA’s premier rocket testing facility. For more information, visit www.portairspace.com.

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