Relativity prepares for the first launch

A rendering of a Relativity launch.

For an aerospace company that has never launched a rocket, Relativity Space Inc. flies high.
The Long Beach-based company has seen tremendous growth over the past year as it strives to prove its one-of-a-kind concept, building rockets using only 3D printers.
Relativity has raised nearly $ 1.2 billion in funding over the past 12 months – bringing its valuation to $ 4.2 billion – and has expanded its local campus by 1 million square feet. It also hired hundreds of people ahead of its first launch, which is slated for later this year.

And the company’s customer waiting list is filled with aerospace and telecommunications heavyweights, including NASA, the Department of Defense and Telesat.
“We are just doing something that has never been done before,” said Karin Kuo, vice president of personnel at Relativity. “I think we all want to be a part of this historic story – to be able to say, ‘I was involved in the design, build and launch of the world’s first fully 3D printed rocket. “”

Relativity uses massive metal 3D printers which it designs and manufactures in-house. The company says printers can create a single rocket from raw materials in 60 days, reducing time and labor costs.

Although other rocket makers have used 3D printing to make individual parts, Relativity is the first company to attempt a build using only 3D printers.
And that’s not even his boldest goal.

The company sees rockets as a way to prove the capabilities of its 3D printers. Its founders want to eventually establish an industrial base on Mars using the manufacturing and automation of 3D printing.

For investors, these noble ambitions are enticing.
Vipin Khare, head of research at the India headquarters of Playa Vista-based William O’Neil & Co. Inc., said many investors are drawn to “high risk, high return” companies. This is especially true of relativity, he said, given its promises of rapid rocket production.

“The less people know about the concept, or the more recent it is, the more interest you will have among seasoned investors,” Khare said.

Investors have rallied around Relativity from the start. The company was founded in 2015 by former Blue Origin engineer Tim Ellis and former Space Exploration Technologies Corp. engineer. Jordan Noone. The two had met as students at USC.

In 2016, their startup joined Y Combinator, based in Cambridge, Mass., A renowned accelerator that has created companies such as DoorDash Inc., AirBnB Inc., Coinbase Global Inc. and Reddit Inc. Several of Relativity’s investors participated. to several financings. rounds, including Tribe Capital, Tiger Global Management and Zillow Group Inc. founder Spencer Rascoff.
Over the past five years, Relativity has grown to six locations nationwide and has approximately 500 employees and plans to add 150 additional employees by the end of the year.

A strong year
But the growth of the business has really accelerated over the past year.
In June, Relativity raised $ 650 million in Series E funding, doubling its total to $ 1.3 billion. Its investors include several Fidelity Management and Research Co., Centricus Asset Management and Soroban Capital Partners, as well as “Shark Tank” investor Mark Cuban and actor Jared Leto.

Kuo said investor interest stems from several factors, including Relativity’s “high caliber” team and the fact that the company’s mission is tied to making the future of humanity “multiplanetary.” .

“We’re… really bold in wanting to tie our company’s vision and mission to Mars, especially around building this industrial base on Mars,” Kuo said.
Relativity’s promise to increase production speed 5 to 10 times that of other companies is also a big draw, Khare said.

“For any concept that emerges or something that gets things done much faster, there’s bound to be an interest,” he said.
Along with its funding announcement in June, Relativity unveiled plans for its new rocket, the Terran R, which it describes as a 216-foot-tall, 16-foot-diameter, two-stage rocket with a payload fairing. of 5 meters which is expected to start flying in 2024.

Relativity said the Terran R will be able to carry payloads 20 times the size of the Terran 1, its flagship rocket design. Terran 1 will be used for smaller payloads.
According to the company, the seven engines of the Terran R, which are high-pressure scale versions of those of the Terran 1, will be capable of launching 302,000 pounds each and will be designed to carry more than 20,000 kilograms in low earth orbit.

Relativity’s rockets are built with fewer than 1,000 parts, rather than the 100,000 or more required in the traditional rocket-making process, the company said.
Ellis said many aerospace companies are slower to innovate their products due to manual labor and the complicated nature of the aerospace supply chain.
“Relativity is at the forefront of this inevitable shift towards software-driven manufacturing,” he said in an email.

New headquarters
In January, the company will move into a new 1 million square foot headquarters at the Goodman Commerce Center in Long Beach. The sprawling 93-acre site will house 2,000 employees, a laboratory, mission control space and a factory with “dozens” of Stargate printers to boost production of Terran R, the company said.
In 2018, Ellis told Forbes he intended to launch the first Relativity rocket by the end of 2020 or early 2021. For now, Ellis said, Terran 1 “is launching into orbit. at the end of this year “. The plan is for the rocket to take off from Launch Complex 16 in Cape Canaveral, Florida.
Kuo said this first launch will be a demo, but that hasn’t stopped customers from lining up to participate in a future Relativity launch, for which the company will charge at least $ 12 million.

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