Relativity Space – disrupting space industry via reusable rockets

The start-up raised $650 million to make foldable 3D printed rockets to challenge SpaceX.

Californian start-up Relativity Space is working on a project that promises to offer Elon Musk’s SpaceX a viable alternative in commercial low-orbit operations. In fact, the company intends to create two types of completely reusable and 3D printed rockets, obviously to cut costs and increase the total number of launches.

How did it start?

Founded in 2015 by Tim Ellis and Jordan Noone, formerly of Blue Origin and SpaceX respectively, the Los Angeles-based company announced on June 8 that it had raised a series of $650 million in funding from third parties such as BlackRock, Centricus, Coatue and Soroban Capital, to produce the two carriers, called Terran 1 and Terran R, the latter capable of launching larger payloads than SpaceX’s Falcon 9.

The first version, Terran 1, was designed for small loads of about 1,250 kg. With its 35 meters height and 2.3 meters width, it should compete with other light launchers useful for carrying small satellites or CubeSats. The first test flight is scheduled for the end of the year, which will be followed shortly after by the first commercial flights. The cost of a single owner payload mission is expected to be around $12 million. According to Ellis himself, Relativity Space has already experienced strong demand, so much so that it no longer accepts reservations for Terran 1.

What are the next steps?

The most interesting vector is definitely Terran R. It is a two-stage rocket with an overall height of 66 meters and a width of 4.9 meters, capable of carrying over 20 tons of payload in low earth orbit. Built with aluminium alloys designed specifically for 3D printing, it exploits aerodynamic structures generated via an algorithm, which means it can only be made with this technology. The rocket is completely reusable. In fact, not only will the first stage be able to land autonomously, but also the second will be able to be recovered, something that the Falcon 9 cannot do at the moment. The first flight of Terran R is scheduled for 2024 from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station.

The future implications of this technology

The rocket will be made with the same giant 3D printers Relativity Space uses to build Terran 1 in Long Beach, California. The company considers this production method to be less complex and faster than traditional ones. Ellis has, in fact, stated that when the construction processes are refined

a rocket can be built starting from the raw material and arriving on the launch pad in less than 60 days.

The company currently has five large-scale 3D printers and another five smaller development ones. Still, it plans to double production areas shortly and further improve the technologies.

However, this is not just one of the technologies being developed in the space engineering sector to cut costs and have a greener approach. Some other companies like Pangea Aerospace have been working in the same field to create a sustainable way of space travel.

They have been working on propulsion technology based on an unconventional rocket engine to boost efficiency.

Read here to know more about the work being done on reusable rockets: Pangea’s Aerospace.

If you want to be a part of the upcoming sustainable space race, you can check out our course on Space Architecture as a beginner. Explore your potential to make a significant change in the world with the Swiss Institute of Disruptive Innovation.

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