Up, Up, and Away: Relativity Joins the Space Race with the largest 3D printer in the World!
With all the growing excitement around space exploration and the rockets that will make it possible to reach for the stars, more and more private enterprises are jumping into the space race. The factor of cost though is the biggest entry barrier for many, but what if the cost could be reduced dramatically. Well if you ask Tim Ellis and Jordan Noone, Co-Founders of the space launch startup Relativity Space what the cheapest way to build a rocket is, the answer is easy: print it! Formed quietly in 2015, Relativity Space is trying to disrupt the aerospace industry by completely reinventing how rockets are built. The two aerospace engineers in their mid 20’s left their respective companies, Blue Origins (Jeff Bezos’s rocket company) and SpaceX (Elon Musk’s rocket company), to form their own rocket enterprise cuddled up with optimistic and ambitious goals. In their mind the 3D printing and automation of rocket manufacturing were inevitable, doing away with the heavy reliance on capital-intensive labor costs and inflexible tooling. With the demand for access to space increasing dramatically, the pace of progress is of utmost importance. Take a look at how Relativity Space is revolutionizing the way we get to outer space and reducing costs by 10X!
After years of stealthy activity, the start-up is making big moves and revealing its plans to overturn more than a half-century of tradition in aerospace manufacturing.
Relativity Space funding and goals:
Since its forming just three years ago, Relativity has built the largest metal 3D printer in the world and has just completed over 100 rocket engine test fires on the journey to construct their own rocket crafted almost entirely of 3D printed parts. While hard at work for their employers during the day, Ellis and Noone talked offline at length about the cost of rockets and the time it took to build them in order to figure out a solution to both. “We put these spreadsheets together to figure out why rockets were still so expensive,” says Noone. “The fact is that 80 to 90 percent of the cost is labor.” With that answer right in front of them, they set out to create their own rocket company with 3D printing as the foundation for manufacturing. At its core, Relativity is creating an entirely new and fundamentally better process to both build and fly rockets. It was clear from the start that people believed in their idea, with Mark Cuban funding their first round of funding after the optimistic duo cold emailed him..networking at its finest! Since then, they have raised over $40 million in capital from venture capital firms like Playground Global.
“They believe in the vision of what we’re trying to do in disrupting 60 years of aerospace tradition,”
Relativity Ceo- Tim Ellis
With their funding, Relativity Space created a 20,000-square-foot facility in Los Angeles, to print and test ever-larger rocket components. There they are working to automate as much of the rocket design and production process as possible, by 3-D printing as much of a rocket as possible while other rocket enterprises presently still rely on more traditional methods to make most parts of their rockets. Given that 3-D–printed components can be stronger, lighter, and less complex than their more traditonally manufactured counterparts, Ellis and Noone decided to rely primarily on the 3D printing process to build what they hoped would be cheaper, better rockets to provide bargain like access to orbit.
We view 3D printing as the future for all rocket production and aerospace manufacturing, because of how much it reduces the labor and part count of these very complex products.
– Relativity CoFounder,Jordan Noone
What Relativity Space does:
Traditionally, 3D printing tends to be slow and expensive, but Relativity Space realized the capacity of current printers could be expanded on in incredible ways, leading the fledgling space company to a solution: build its own printers. The printers considered the largest ever, incorporate 18-foot robotic arms decked out with lasers that can melt a steady flow of raw materials into liquid metal for shaping. The handful of arms can work together simultaneously to craft an entire rocket body as a single piece, leveraging custom software to monitor the metal resilience and print speed. They have scaled to the point where their printers can craft a rocket structure for a nearly 7 foot wide, 100-foot tall rocket completely from scratch in only 30 days. “The space shuttle had 2.5 million moving parts,” Ellis says. “We think SpaceX and Blue Origin have gotten that down to maybe 100,000 moving parts per rocket. We want to get to 1,000 moving parts, fewer than a car.” Once these parts are printed, the set target is to put together, test, integrate and fly the rocket within another 30 days, making the entire rocket process timeline from raw material to flight under 60 days, driving the price of rocket launches down from their current rate of around $100 million to just about $10 million per launch. This platform that effectively cuddles metallurgy, software, and machine learning into the biggest 3D printer in the world has been given the name Stargate. For the SyFy fans out there, this name definitely resonates with you!
So we’re going after two services: the ability to resupply constellations with new, midsize satellites as old ones fail, and the ability to deploy entire orbital planes full of smaller satellites.
-Relativity Space CEO, Tim Ellis
Relativity Space future growth:
The space startup is still relatively young compared to others in the industry with only 14 full-time employees on board and a lean budget. Despite its deceivingly small size, Relativity hopes to print a 90-foot rocket for a first flight prototype by 2021. With this goal the company has garnished some unique attention, obtaining a first-of-its-kind partnership with NASA, in which the space agency is giving Relativity a 20-year lease on its E-4 facilities at Stennis at cost. Previously the space startup only had access to an existing test stand, but will now be able to have 24/7 management over a 25-acre test complex to develop and test its first launch vehicle. “We’re the only startup that has done a deal like this at all, which really helps with legitimacy with customers,” Ellis said. With this new partnership creating a stable foundation, Relativity Space is on track to get its Terran 1 into orbit in 2020 before performing commercial services in early 2021. To do so, the company will hire 28 new employees, expand its facilities from 10,000 square feet to around 40,000 square feet and create the second version of Stargate with the new capacity of its NASA “space”. In all honesty, the path from now until the first launch may prove to be just as exciting as the launch itself. Noone commented that “If all goes well, this would be only the first step toward the company’s ultimate goal of making humanity multi-planetary, by printing and launching rockets from future settlements on Mars.” Presently, the company says it has over $1 billion worth of partnership agreements with government groups and commercial businesses around the globe. Even with all the work they are doing printing and building rockets, Relativity is still hard at work developing a series of novel, never-seen-before technologies for creating our own orbital launch service and changing the way things get to space.
Top that Elon!
Our long-term mission is to print the first rocket on Mars.” – Relativity Space CEO Ellis
This Untold Business story shows that when thinking outside the box doesn’t provide a solution, reinventing the box itself might. Ellis and Noone have already invented the basic equipment they’ll need to slash rocketry costs, creating a fundamental shift in how quickly and inexpensively rockets are designed, constructed, and launched. Relativity is forever changing the aerospace industry and paving the way for the future of humanity in space but they have a lot of proving ground left to cover. Keep an eye on this space startup as it continues to launch itself into the space race &look to the stars as they reach their goals.
July 20, 2018| By Chaz Hermanowski – Untold Business Writer