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Growing up, I heard there was a secret "NASA" rocket testing facility in northern Nevada (home for me), but I never knew what it was. Today, I finally found out...
Thanks to @Erdayastronaut, while digging into aerospike engine history, he came across this test site in Nevada called the "Nevada Field Laboratory" (NFL) which is tucked away between Reno, NV and Pyramid Lake 📍 Map: maps.apple.com/?address=Reno,…
The NFL test site is only 20 miles north of Reno, and the only people that (I recall) knowing that this place even existed were local farmers.

Turns out...this place was instrumental in the #Gemini, #Apollo, and #Shuttle programs for supporting rocket engine dev testing 🚀
Up until 2009, not much was known about this secret test site. Thanks to retired NAVY officer and supporting member of @SparksMuseum, Dick Dreiling set out to piece it together, saying, "That place was very, very instrumental in the U.S. space program, and nobody knew about it."
What followed were several years of research that had Dreiling contacting former employees of the #Rocketdyne facility and collecting photos. Photos are on display at @SparksMuseum, and more will be shared by @Erdayastronaut soon 🚀 Here's a sneak peek from a 2014 @RGJ article...
In order to plan for the incredible amount of work required to support NASA's new space program, several “field laboratories” were created to support various development efforts. Among these was the "Advanced Research Facility," later named the "Nevada Field Laboratory" (NFL) 🚀
Ground broke in Sept 1961, with Nevada officials welcoming North American Aviation (NAA) and it's #Rocketdyne division as "neighbors in Nevada." From 1962 to 1970, Rocketdyne operated the facility on ~200 square miles of land mostly east of Pyramid Hwy. usatoday.com/story/news/nat…
Hidden from public view and under tight security, engineers erected massive apparatus to test engines and thrusters that would be used on #Gemini and #Apollo spacecraft, the #LunarModule, and #SpaceShuttle 🚀 Prototype military missiles also were tested at the site.
The NFL had 3 active test facilities, and a workforce of ~200 people. "We were on the leading edge of rocket engine development," said Alan Chambers, former NFL Rocketdyne engineer. "It was hands-on work on those engines - there was fire and smoke coming out those nozzles."
Some info on this test, thanks to @Erdayastronaut (note: 350 gallons per *second* flowrate)
Astronauts were regular visitors to the Nevada Field Laboratory (NFL). They were keenly interested in the state of the engines that were planned to carry them into space or steer their spacecraft 🚀 [Image: Rocketdyne Astronaut Visit to NFL in 1969] rgj.com/picture-galler… #NASA
Chambers was surprised over how few people knew what was taking place at #Rocketdyne's NFL. "While I was living there, I was surprised most people didn't know anything was going on, yet we did some monumental work out there for the space program. "We were very proud of it." 🚀
Rocketdyne Test Team at NFL 1968. Front row L-R: A.Chambers (Mgr), C.Adsitt (Inst Engr), Boelkow Co rep, Unknown (Mech Tech="MT"), J.Leibold (Test Cond/Engr), L.Nave (Dev Engr), Simpson (MT), G.Gattis (MT), R.Deputy (MT). Back Row: J.Morrow, Unknown, Unknown (MT's)📸@SparksMuseum
Rocketdyne's NFL site (March 27, 1968) 📸@SparksMuseum
#Rocketdyne NFL workers preparing equipment for a test. Note: #RenoIronWorkers 📸@SparksMuseum
#Rocketdyne engine test stand at the Nevada Field Lab (NFL), which was located in 3 different locations on the test site. 📸@SparksMuseum
Annular aerospike hotfire test at the #Rocketdyne Nevada Field Laboratory (NFL). Annular aerospikes were extensively tested at NFL, with thrust levels ranging from 4,000 lbf to 250,000 lbf and using a variety of propellants 🔥 --> Ref 📸@SparksMuseum, ℹ️ amazon.com/dp/1563477548/…
Here we have (what looks to be) a test stand at #Rocketdyne's NFL for simulating high-altitude engine tests, based on the exhaust diffuser (big tube) 🚀 Image credit: @SparksMuseum
In late 1970, developmental ignition tests for the #SSME were conducted, and a prototype SSME thrust chamber fired successfully in early 1971 at the NFL, giving #Rocketdyne the critical edge toward award of the later manufacturing contract for the engine🚀history.nasa.gov/SP-4221/ch5.htm
A great side story on the #SSME tests at NFL and how the #Rocketdyne team turned the test results into a winning proposal for NASA🚀 "The highest risk I've ever taken, in terms of a rocket engine, was to build this full-scale thrust chamber for a proposal" history.nasa.gov/SP-4221/ch5.htm
#Rocketdyne's NFL would close in March 1971 after nine years of operation, following completion of #SSME tests in Area D 🚀 Ref ℹ️ ssfl.msfc.nasa.gov/documents/hist… / 🗺 pvgid.com/images/History…
Chambers recalled the disappointment when the NFL closed, which resulted from a change in NASA policy that precluded rocket engine testing on privately-owned land (eg, NFL). "We were all real proud of what we were doing. We hated to see it come to an end." usatoday.com/story/news/nat…
Almost 50 years later, there's little evidence of the cutting-edge work that occurred on that sagebrush-covered terrain at the NFL. A couple of exhaust pipes sit hidden on a hillside in mute testament to the role they played in the historic space race 🚀 #NASA #NevadaHistory
Check back in on @Erdayastronaut for an incoming post/video for more photos of the Nevada Field Lab and incredible aerospike testing that was done in this Northern Nevada desert 🚀 Credit to Dick Dreiling, @SparksMuseum & @rgj for sharing the story+photos
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