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The Santa Susana Field Laboratory in Relation to the Surrounding Areas.

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The SSFL TODAY, in 2010

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Woolsey Canyon Road that Leads to the SSFL in 1993.

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Woolsey Canyon Road that Leads to the SSFL in 2007.

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Click on Photo for PDF of the Santa Susana Field Lab

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SSFL Location in Relation to Parkland.

The course of modern space travel took a significant step forward in 1947 when North American Aviation fired its first rocket engine in the company parking lot then located near what is now Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). It was also during this period that the United States took its initial steps into the infant Science of Rocketry. The United States Army planned use of low thrust rocket engines (50,000 to 100,000 lbs thrust) for launch or ordnances. The United States Air Force required larger rocket engines up to 240,000 lbs thrust.

 

North American Aviation’s Rocketdyne Division was considered to be among the most experienced in the rocket research field and was an active participant in the development of rocket engine technology. As this technology matured, it soon became necessary to test fire engines with increasing frequency.

 

During 1947, NAA/Rocketdyne had selected acreage in the Santa Susana Mountains near Canoga Park, California for development as a permanent test site adaptable for testing a broad range of liquid-fueled components and propulsion systems. The site was selected because of its mountain top isolation and its many natural rocky bowls.

 

The first test stands to be erected at Santa Susana’s Bowl Test Facility were patterned after those used at the German WWII test facilities at Pennemunde. They were designed to hold not only the engine test article but also an entire vehicle. In November 1949, a 3000 lbs thrust test was conducted on a pressure-fed injector and solid wall thrust chamber engine built from the old parking lot test facility hardware. By the spring of 1949, testing of sub-scale injectors and full-scale gas generators was ongoing for major components of a 56,000 pound-thrust engine. The culmination of this early experimental test activity that marks the beginning of the 50-year anniversary of testing at the Santa Susana Field Laboratory was the November 15, 1950 first successful main-stage test of an American-designed-and-built XLR43-NA-1 large liquid propellant rocket engine. In the final iteration of the XLR43, the Redstone engine was born and expansion of the test facilities at the Santa Susana Field Laboratory would soon follow. Also in 1950, the Large Motor Test Stand in the Bowl Area, later named Vertical Test Stand #1, was the scene of an ignition test of an early version of the Navaho engine. In March of the same year, the first full thrust test of a pressurized Navaho rocket engine was conducted.

 

The initial test facility would soon be joined by more test facilities as Rocketdyne expanded further back into the mountainous Santa Susana terrain. Starting in early 1950s, there was interest in developing the first liquid oxygen-kerosene fueled engine. In 1954, this new bi-propellant technology would be put to use in the development of the engines for Atlas, Jupiter, and Thor missile systems. By the late 1950s, the Santa Susana test facilities had developed into four major test areas groupings consisting of 18 large static test stands rated at thrusts up to 1.5 million pounds, five component test laboratories with over 60 test positions, and an advanced propulsion test facility and the AREA IV Nuclear Facilities overseen by the The Atomic Energy Commission (AEC), known today as the DOE (Department of Energy). The entire Santa Susana Field Laboratory encompasses 2558 acres of which 451 acres are Government-owned.

 

In the late 1980s, many of the test stands at Santa Susana were engaged in testing of components and engines fueled by liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen. Among these were the J-2 engines used to power the second stage of the Saturn IB and second third stages of the Saturn V launch vehicle. Soon followed the development testing of Space Shuttle Main Engine components and engine systems. As recent as 1999, one of the test stands located in the COCA Area of Santa Susana was modified for structural load testing on the liquid hydrogen tank for the Delta IV Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle. Though on a smaller scale, one can not overlook the contributions of Santa Susana to our Nations space exploration programs. Santa Susana’s component and systems test laboratories successfully tested and qualified maneuvering control systems for the Gemini and Apollo spacecrafts and the Lunar Ascent Engine for the Lunar Excursion Module. Numerous other reaction control systems were tested at Santa Susana for programs such as SE-9 Titan III Transtage, Mars Mariner and Viking Maneuvering System, Shuttle Orbiter, and Minuteman. One must see the site to  more fully appreciate the scope and versatility of the test facilities located at the Santa Susana Field Laboratory and its many contributions to our Nation’s military and space exploration programs. Today the site is owned by The Boeing Co. partially with N.A.S.A. and the DOE.

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