Santa Susana started in 1947 as post-World War II America began preparations for a national space program. At the time, the United States was in the midst of the Cold War and soon thereafter, a race to see which country could make the fastest and furthest advancements into space.
The site was home to rocket engine testing that supported virtually every major space program in U.S. history, including the earliest satellites and the Space Shuttle. From Atlas, Thor and Jupiter engines to the Space Shuttle Main Engine, the work at Santa Susana has taken us to the moon and back.
Rocket Engine Testing
North American Aviation (NAA) established the field laboratory in 1947 in order to static-fire large rocket engines and manage its government and commercial nuclear research and development activities. The rocket development group conducted operations at the site in Areas I, II and III. The nuclear research group conducted operations in Area IV. In December 1955, these two NAA groups were transformed into separate divisions: Atomics International (AI) and Rocketdyne.
Rocketdyne later became a part of Rockwell International Corporation. In 1996, Boeing acquired the aerospace and defense operations of Rockwell, which included Rocketdyne. In 2005, Boeing sold Rocketdyne to Pratt Whitney yet retained ownership of Santa Susana.
NASA owns 451.2 acres in two areas of Santa Susana and started its operations at the site in 1973, when they acquired land from the U.S. Air Force (USAF). Prior to 1973, NASA and the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) conducted testing at Santa Susana in cooperation with the USAF.
The rocket engines tested at Santa Susana made history. On November 15, 1950, at Vertical Test Stand #1, rocket pioneers successfully tested the first American-designed-and-built large liquid propellant rocket engine, which kicked off official testing at Santa Susana. Some highlights of the rocket engine testing program include:
Redstone: The first American satellite, Explorer, launched into orbit in 1958 and the first American manned flight in 1961
Apollo: The lunar landing program was powered by F-1 and J-2 engines
Space Shuttle: The first reusable liquid rocket engine ever built, three Space Shuttle Main Engines provide most of the thrust required to reach orbit
Delta/Atlas: America's workhorse satellite launch engine, RS-27A, was the last engine tested at Santa Susana on March 3, 2006
Work at the site also included a number of national defense programs and research, development and testing for nuclear, solar and other alternative energy sources. Through the Atomics International division of North American Aviation, then later through the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), energy-related research, testing and development projects were conducted at Santa Susana's Energy Technology Engineering Center (ETEC).
As the United States supported the development of nuclear energy, there was a need to develop the technology related to the use of sodium and other liquid metals. The activities conducted at ETEC mostly involved the development and testing of components used in metallic sodium systems. Phasing out of nuclear operations began during the mid 1960s and by 1988, the remaining ETEC operations were closed. For more information about the ETEC closure, please visit www.etec.energy.gov.