3D-printed rocket startup is now a launch site on California coast
Rocket startup Relativity Space is expanding its launch sites in to one of the two with a new contract to fly on the future rocket out of Vandenberg Air Force Base, in Southern California. Agreement means Relativity, which already has a lease for a launch site in Cape Canaveral, Florida will be able to fly to either the East or west coast of the United States when the rocket is ready.
Based out of Los Angeles, the relativity of space a bold rocket startup aims to create the first fully 3D printed rocket. The company started by engineers from SpaceX and Blue Origin is currently developing its first rockets called terran 1. The goal is for each part of the terran 1 — including the engine, body, and propellant tank — to be 3D printed to minimize the amount of manpower needed to manufacture the rocket and bring down costs. Relativity created her own 3D printer called the Stargate to get the job done, and the company recently moved into a new 120,000-square-foot facility in Long Beach, California, in the further development of the rocket.
In January of last year, relativity announced it had signed an agreement to launch out of Cape Canaveral Air Force Station from a site called LC-16. The company plans to ramp up to build on to prepare the site for the inaugural flight of the terran 1 currently scheduled for the end of 2021. In the meantime, relativity signed a “right of entry agreement” in Vandenberg Air Force Base. The company is eyeing the move to a web site referred to in the building of the 330 and on the ground around it.
“We have a site identified, we went through a program review; we have done the initial paperwork to actually getting the first step towards a web site awarded,” Tim Ellis, CEO of Relativity Space tells Along the way. “This means that we actually start from this facility.” They say that the new location will allow the company to start to cycle on to move over the North and South poles, which in its own rocket can not reach, starting from the east side of the Cape.
As the company begins the process of moving in to their new launch site, customers are taking notice. Relativity also announced that satellite operator Iridium will launch six satellites on terran 1. Iridium ended the beginning of this new constellation of satellites in early 2019, putting up 66 operational satellites and nine in-orbit spares on SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket. However, the company developed six spare satellites that have been in storage, on the ground and Iridium want is the option to start those in the future. Relativity’s terran 1 will loft a Iridium satellites at a time, with all the beginning of take place out of Vandenberg.
Ellis says the new launch site, combined with the relativity of the new 3D printing technology to help secure the deal. “That is why Iridium chose us,” he says. “It’s just confidence in our ability to achieve a successful launch, and then also how disruptive payload performance had the potential and the value that we are able to provide due to that the 3D printing technology.” Relativity said that a flight of this terran 1, which can carry approximately 2,755 pounds (1,250 kg) to low Earth orbit will start at $10 million.
There is still a long way to go to prove that the relativity of the rocket construction techniques will work and cost-effective. Ellis expects to start piecing together the rocket and testing on this by the end of this year. But the company has made significant milestones in its short five years of life with it. Engineers at the company have tested their engines in multiple sites to test out NASA’s Stennis Space Center in Mississippi. The end of last year, the company announced it had raised a total of $185 million, which will be sufficient to fund its first commercial mission. Relativity also continues to bring on well-known talent within the space industry. In May, The company hired Zachary Dunn SpaceX Who had worked for Elon Musk led the company for more than a decade and was senior vice president of production and start. And despite the economic downturn due to the COVID-19, relativity is ramping up to hire him.
In addition, a second launch site is just a big milestone, a Ellis hopes will cement the company as a major player. “I mean, when you look at how many companies are actually bicoastal and critical launch facilities, this is a big sign of confidence in the relativity of perspective,” he says.
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