Crews at Stennis Space Center Refurbish Waterway Lock System


Waterway access to NASA’s Stennis Space Center is critical for the transport of large flight hardware and equipment. A recent project focused on refurbishing the center’s decades-old waterway lock system to ensure the key piece of infrastructure maintains safe operating condition.

The renovation of the navigation lock system at NASA Stennis began in November 2022, when crews removed the miter gates for inspection and refurbishment of the structural steel. The system is critical in providing site access for large equipment and test articles that cannot be transported by land. It also maintains a constant water level for the NASA Stennis canal system that connects all large test stands on site. The refurbishment project was launched after engineers determined the lock system – built in the 1960s – needed extensive refurbishment. The first step involved placement of a temporary retaining wall, known as a stop log, on Nov. 14.

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Placement of the wall was key to help maintain water level in the NASA Stennis canal system while crews completed the extensive refurbishment project. Typically, the water level of the NASA Stennis canal system is about 16 to 18 feet higher than the Pearl River. When a vessel travels to NASA Stennis, the lock system and its miter gates allow operators to raise the watercraft from the lower river level to the higher canal level. 

“We have never had a situation where we were trying to get a vessel through the lock system where the gates could not operate properly, and the vessel had to hold,” said NASA project manager Dale Woolridge. “However, we were beginning to experience leaking during the opening and closing of the gates, so it was time to get this project done to continue with a successful operation moving forward.”

Removal of the miter gates at the NASA Stennis lock system was no small undertaking. The four gates are each seven feet thick and measure 60 feet by 40 feet.

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“It was very interesting to me,” said Woolridge. “As a civil engineer, this is what I like. Refurbishment of the structure reduces risks to the perfect operational record. We cannot have a piece of spaceflight hardware meant for the Moon trapped on Earth due to a broken lock gate.”

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