Labs: A multimillion-dollar benefit
With some millions of dollars worth of equipment, a highly trained staff and expertise in multiple scientific fields, it's no wonder 80 companies a year use the laboratories at NASA's Stennis Space Center. And it's also no wonder that recent tours have been booked.
The Mississippi Enterprise for Technology, which operates technology transfer and incubator programs at Stennis Space Center, hosted a tour of the labs March 7. Due to tour size constraints, it could only handle 12 participants. Interest was so high that another tour was held on April 5 for 12 more participants, and more tours are being scheduled.
"We've hosted four lab tours in the past year." said Charlie Beasley, president and CEO of MSET. "We'll host at least one more tour in 2012."
Or perhaps more.
"We plan to continue tours until we fail to get someone to sign up," said Laurie Jugan, a consultant for MSET.
The interest in the tours isn't that surprising. Stennis Space Center's three labs have state-of-the-art equipment valued at some $5.7 million, along with a highly trained technical staff of about 60.
The three labs are the environmental lab, the gas and materials lab, and the measurements standards and calibration lab. They all support NASA's activities at Stennis Space Center, and are also used by other government agencies and aerospace contractors.
Personnel at the labs have an average of 15 years experience, and their educational backgrounds range all the way up to those with doctorates. "We have a few rocket scientists," joked Sheila Varnado, administrative analyst at A2Research, which operates the labs for NASA.
Companies pay to use the facilities, but they benefit in multiple ways, including not having to put up the money to buy their own equipment or pay for expert personnel. And if something happens to lab equipment, it's the responsibility of the lab to get it fixed, not the users.
On top of that, the scientists and technicians can work at a customer's site, and the lab capabilities can be included in companies' proposals, according to A2Research.
The environmental lab uses a networked system of over 40 computers. Testing includes organic and inorganic biological analysis. The lab routinely turns over sample reports within 24 hours, and in some cases the same day. Over 90 percent of the employees at the environmental lab have a minimum bachelor's degree.
The gas and materials laboratory has two parts. One is the gas analysis area, which conducts general and non-routine analysis on gas and cryogenic propellants, pressurants and hydraulic fluids. The other is the materials area, which conducts failure analysis and evaluates contaminates on metallic and non-metallic materials.
Both areas of the gas and materials lab provide data necessary to understand and solve gas and material problems associated with rocket engine testing, plume analysis, and material compatibility issues by performing in depth laboratory and field studies.
The measurement standards and calibration lab is a 22,600 square-foot facility that contains some of the most modern equipment available for electronic, physical and mechanical calibration, measurement, and repair service. It has a staff with an average of some 20 years of test equipment calibration and repair experience.
"NASA is very supportive of MSET and their laboratory contractor, A2Research, conducting outreach events to inform others of the lab's vast capabilities and easy accessibility," said Beasley.
"It is a clear benefit to both NASA and outside customers when the laboratory is utilized to its maximum extent. It's an honor for MSET to be able to present such a valuable national resource through this series of lab tours."
- David Tortorano