Aerojet-Dade Rocket Fabrication and Development Facility

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1965 260 in. motor

The rocket motor as it arrived into Homestead, 1965

In 1957, Sputnik was launched, being the first human-made object to orbit the Earth; an event that sparked a space race of who can get to the moon first, between the United States and the Soviet Union. In 1963, the U.S. Air Force gave Aerojet General, a major rocket and missile propulsion manufacturer, $3 million to start construction of a manufacturing and testing site in Homestead.

Aerojet acquired land for the plant, less than five miles from the Everglades National Park, paying $2.50 an acre per year for an annual lease with an option to buy up to 25,000 acres more at nickels on the dollar. A proposal was made to dig a canal from the facility to Barnes Sound on the Atlantic Ocean. The C-111, now known as Aerojet Canal, was dug even though it was close to the Everglades National Park, as economic development of the region won in favor of any environmental conflicts the canal would cause. The canal would be used to barge the rockets from the facility to Cape Canaveral as well as barging the needed equipment in.

Photo by Bullet, 2012

Photo Credit: Bullet, 2012 – Aerojet Road is the only road to and from the facility.

A small debate arose on whether to use liquid-fuel rocket engines, solid-fuel rocket motors, or a combination of both. Solid-fueled rockets were best favored in the initial launch, able to lift over 100,000 pounds of payload through the atmosphere. But once free of Earth’s orbit though, liquid-fuel seemed to be the best route to go.

Aerojet now needed a cylindrical chamber that would withstand the force and power and space-faring rocket would cause. After much researching, the decided to subcontract the fabrication of 260-inch-diameter, 24m long chambers to Sun Ship and Dry dock Company located at Chester, PA. The chambers were designed in short-length, meaning half the size of what the final product would be, hence the names given to the test rockets, SL-1, SL-2 and SL-3. Both motors used a propellant burning rate and nozzle size appropriate for the full length design and were capable of about 1,600,000 kgf thrust for 114 seconds.

In March 1965, two rocket chambers were delivered to the plant. At the time, the C-111 canal was not yet complete, so the the rocket chambers were barged down from Sun Ship to Homestead via the Intracoastal Waterway and then trucked in from Biscayne Bay. The large amount of propellant needed for such a rocket was manufactured at the Everglades plant. As the chamber was trucked three miles south of the main facility to the test firing site, the propellant was mixed, analyzed, and produced to fill the rocket motor chamber.

Between Sept. 25, 1965 and June 17, 1967, three static test firings were done. SL-1 was fired at night, and the flame was clearly visible from Miami 50km away, producing over 3 million pounds of thrust. SL-2 was fired with similar success and relatively uneventful. SL-3, the third and what would be the final test rocket, used a partially submerged nozzle and produced 2,670,000 kgf thrust, making it the largest solid-fuel rocket ever.

Near burnout, the rocket nozzle was ejected, causing propellant made of hydrochloric acids to be spread across wetlands in the Everglades and crop fields and homes in Homestead. Many residents of Homestead complained about the damage done, which included paint damage to their cars and killing thousands of dollars worth of crops.

Photo by Bullet, 2012

Photo Credit: Bullet, 2012 – One of the laboratories at the facility.

By 1969, NASA had decided to go with liquid-fueled engines for the Apollo’s Saturn V rockets, causing the workers of the Everglades plant to be laid off and the abandonment of the facility. In 1986, after NASA had awarded the Space Shuttle booster contract to Morton Thiokol, Aerojet sued the State of Florida and sold most of it’s land holdings to the South Dade Land Corporation for $6 million. After many unsuccessful attempts to use the land for farming, the land was sold off again to the state of Florida for $12 million. Aerojet would later trade it’s remaining 5,100-acres in South Florida for 55,000 acres in New Mexico.

In February 2010, Rodney Erwin, representing the Omega Space Systems Group, made a proposal to the Homestead City Council to resurrect the vacant Aerojet facility as a new rocket plant. Though Homestead Mayor Steve Bateman supported the plan, pushing the need for jobs, the water management district immediately shot down the idea.

Aerojet Dade Rocket Fabrication and Development Facility - Photo by Bullet, 2012

Photo Credit: Bullet, 2012 – The massive SL-260-3 rocket chamber still sits in the silo to this day.

In early-2010, the district made plans to overhaul the damage done to the wetlands by the C-111 canal. The canal had been sucking water that once flowed into Florida Bay and piping it 20 miles the wrong way, ever since it was dug. Parts of the facility have been scrapped and the doorways to the buildings have been blocked off by mounds of dirt.

South Florida Water Management(SFWMD) dismantled the shed which sat over the silo around May 2013 and the silo itself was covered with concrete bridge supports. Aerojet Road, which ran 3 miles south of the facility to the test firing site, is now a nature trail. The future of the space relic remains unknown.

Photo by Drew Perlmutter, 2013

Photo Credit: Drew Perlmutter, 2013

  • Photographer: Bullet
    Year Taken: 2012-2015
    Website: Abandoned Florida
  • Photographer: Naaman Fletcher
    Year Taken: 2010
    Website: http://leftbirmingham.blogspot.com/
  • Photographer: Leon Legot
    Year Taken: 2013
    Website: Photobucket
  • Photographer: YourMainParadox
    Year Taken: 2013
    Website: http://www.flickr.com/photos/48912544@N00/
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147 Comments

  1. i just found out about this place recently and i would love to visit, any info on where it is and how to find it would be very appreciated. thanks.

  2. Site has been closed off due to the body of our dear friend Jesus Trejo was found after he was murdered. Justice will be served and We miss him dearly. I wanted to do some research of my own. As a young girl I was told it was an insane asylum and to this day believed it was. Many of my friends have visited the site, but I never had the guts. I decided to find out what it really was. It was always a fun place for teenagers to get a good scare but never did I think that some one would use it to kill a beloved friend. His body was found in the canal half eaten by gators. Exteamly sad day for the city of homestead. R.I.P Jesus Trejo

    • I was there the other day for the first time and found out about Jesus and Chris it’s a very sad situation 2 young men body’s found in less than 3 months R.I.P to both of them… Btw the “insane asylum” is not actually this place… The asylum is right off Krome and SW 8th street not as desolated as the Aerojet-Dade which is miles deep in the Everglades. Aerojet is way too desolated… And yes the Aerojet Road has been closed off by a gate (because of the body’s found) which is still assecible but this means now you have to park your car and walk miles along the canal… It’s sad to think people out there would use such place with history to take the lives of these two young men and because of this I will most likely not be going back. R.i.p

  3. I just spent the last few weeks taking some trips down to Aerojet Dade to both areas. I can add that the salvage teams have taken quite a bit from all of the buildings around the Cast and Cure complex (the shed) and the Fabrication and Development complex to the north. It is interesting that there have been efforts made to block access into certain doorways and buildings altogether by piling gravel and moving large boulders in the way along with welding metal handrails onto other doorways.

    You can see an example of the doorways being blocked here:
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/umbralx/10397682985/

    It is possible to still see into the silo, though it required a good flash to get any shot whatsoever. You can see what it’s like between these beams in this photo:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/umbralx/10680279664/

    The site seems to be pretty active these days as I’ve been running into a lot of people fishing, hiking, and biking the roads through my visits. A lot more than I have ever seen before.

    Finally, my condolences to the family and friends of Jesus Trejo. I hope justice is served for you.

      • Nevermind. Enlarging the photo shows them to be some sort of absorbent made by Grace Chemical. Appears to read “Proten-sorb”. By the way, thanks for providing the incredible photos!

  4. arthur lemaster on

    can you still walk around the site or is it completly blocked & no entry ? was there in march , could walk in then, please let me no

    • You can still walk in but they’ve put a huge tall locked fence in the beggining of Aerojet Road (you can still find a way across it) because of this you have to park and travel by foot miles in the Everglades before reaching the Aerojet buildings.

  5. nasanut, yes the bags are a desiccant made of silica gel called “Protek-Sorb” that are just larger older versions of the stuff we use these days. Also, the engine in the silo is just the casing as the propellant was all used up during the last engine test as further production ceased.

  6. I was lucky enough to see the rocket at Aerojet myself in 2012. I went with a group of friends in order to get there we all went in Atv’s. The gates were were closed off so we had to lift the Atv over the gate in order to get to the Rocket itself. We went in every building there all rusted and inside they had a lot of wires and old things they used in order to control things at the Aerojet. When we got to the rocket we entered the big rusted shed and we saw the rocket. Above the rocket it looked like a subway grating. You could see right thru it. The floor that looked like a subway grating was so rusted and delicate that if you would have stepped and walked on it you probably would have fall into the silo. Its sad that they had to cover it up. Now you cant see nothing! It was a piece of history

  7. Great documentary. It is stated in the documentary that the casing left in the silo is SL-2, even though SL-3 was the final one to be fired. Any known reason for this?

  8. Robert Rivera on

    Any updates as of today as to if there’s anything left to photograph and if it’s still accessible. I know I’m a little late to the table but I’ve just recently become interested in this kind of photography and am looking for something like this since I’ve had no luck yet in the Palm Beach County area.

  9. arthur lemaster on

    there was a store that sold beer a little ways down the road toward homestead, they had tables set out in front of store, we would stop there sometimes. don;t no name sorry

  10. ok,ya thanks.i never went there that i know of,but im sure dad did.we moved from aerojet hq in sac in 1963 to homestead,i was only 3 then.not even sure what year we left to go back to cal,but no doubt when the news came out that the contract was lost to liquids.
    rick

  11. Russel Murphy-we lived in a house in homestead,i have been trying to figure out the address but no one is left that would know.

    • arthur lemaster on

      not sure about name, been a long time, do you no what or where he worked. might help me remember i worked in the fuel bld. is he still alive

      • He worked all the time like a lot of those front line guys…I wonder to this day how he got that job with a 6th grade education….except,I remember his brother was civil service for aero-jet….liquids.Russel was in solids…..he ended up doing over 30 years with the company.
        passed around 1996 out there in Folsom ca.

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