New rocket company raising investment capital

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The competition heats up: Two former employees of SpaceX and Blue Origin have teamed up to start their own rocket company, aimed at using 3D printing technology to build rockets “with zero human labor.”

The funding rounds are described in two documents filed in May and this month with the Securities and Exchange Commission. The first filing reports that $1.1 million in equity was sold to investors. The second filing serves as a new notice of $8.4 million in equity sold, out of a $9.6 million offering.

The filings indicate that Relativity Space is based in Seattle, but in response to an email inquiry, the company declined to say anything further about its location, its business plan or its investors. “We are entirely in stealth mode and will comment more when we are ready,” the company said.

New companies come and go, but the fact that the guys in charge of this come from these two companies, and have already raised significant investment capital, suggests attention should be paid.


  • t-dub

    I think they are going to run into a boatload of trouble trying to make the entire rocket with a 3D printer with “zero human labor.” I don’t think we have a 3D printer for titanium or many other exotic materials yet either. They say they will take advantage of lightweight composites and 3D printing but first you need more than lightweight composites to make a rocket and secondly they will need human labor to put the parts together after verifying their construction and integrity. I don’t see how they could build an entire rocket from a single 3D print which is kind of what they are claiming. Also if they use large blocks of exotic materials to “carve” parts from this will be expensive.

  • Dick Eagleson

    At present, pretty much anything metal can be 3-D printed to very near net shape. SpaceX uses 3-D printing to make Inconel components for Super Draco thrusters, for example. Titanium is no problem.

    But 3-D metal printing can’t yet achieve surface finishes comparable to most types of conventional machining and, especially, to grinding processes. There will still be finishing steps to do using more conventional manufacturing processes on some parts. Flat mating surfaces will almost certainly need to be milled or surface or Blanchard ground. Rotating parts will almost certainly require boring or journal grinding.

    There are also very few 3-D printers capable of making parts anywhere near as large as those that can be fabricated on even fairly modest conventional machine tools such as vertical milling machines. If Relativity Space isn’t planing to make really large engines, that may not be any problem.

    The rocket engine part likeliest to give size limitation trouble being 3-D printed in metal is probably a channel-cooled nozzle and bell. This part on a SpaceX Merlin 1-D would appear to be roughly a meter tall and most of a meter in diameter. Corresponding parts on SpaceX Raptor and Blue Origin BE-4 engines would be as tall as a typical adult male and a meter and a half or more in diameter. I don’t know of any 3-D metal printers with anywhere near large enough a work volume to handle the Merlin bell, never mind those of a Raptor or BE-4. I’m not saying such machines don’t exist, just that I haven’t come across one yet with suitable specs.

    There are 3-D printers that can make small parts out of fiber-reinforced plastics. I’m not aware of any current machine that could fabricate something the size and composition of, say, a Rocket Lab Electron’s 1st stage, but there doesn’t seem to be any intrinsic reason such a machine would not be possible.

    Perhaps developing some or most of their own proprietary additive fabrication equipment is also on the agenda of Relativity Space. Or perhaps the founders have an in with one or more 3-D printing startups looking to build such equipment.

    I think the goal of a completely unmanned, “lights-out” factory floor is going to elude the field of rocketry for at least awhile longer. That isn’t to say Relativity Space can’t get fairly close fairly soon. I think Dr. Z is quite right that these are folks worth keeping an eye on.

  • BSJ

    These guys are building a factory near here…

  • Dick: Very informative. One correction: I am not a Dr., as I do not have (thankfully) a PhD.

  • Tom Billings

    Dick said:

    ” I don’t know of any 3-D metal printers with anywhere near large enough a work volume to handle the Merlin bell, never mind those of a Raptor or BE-4. I’m not saying such machines don’t exist, just that I haven’t come across one yet with suitable specs.”

    I have seen translated quotes from brag sheets by Chinese institutes that described 3d metal printers big enough to build an entire Tank hull, 8meters by 5 meters, by 3 meters. I don’t know if these became production equipment.

    Having another company pushing size will help. Combining that with 3d metal printing in Space will be highly useful. Remember that size isn’t everything, however. Building from small to large, in Space, could be very useful. 3 Years ago nano-architectured trusses were maxing out at a total diameter less than a millimeter across. Today they are to a centimeter :

    If that rate of advance holds, then we will see in 10 years incredibly low mass, incredibly strong structures with minimum dimensions in single digit nano scales, and maximum total diameters of 10meters+. A space manufacturing outfit that can use such manufacturing could build very high performance vehicles, at scales humans can use in settling the Solar System.

  • Edward

    Nice link. “The new industrial revolution is here.”

    Someone, a few years ago, said to me that there hasn’t been an important invention since the LASER, but I am starting to think that additive manufacturing (better known as 3-D printing) is proving to be an important advancement.

    When I was starting out as a design engineer, my mentor pointed out that it was easy to remove material but not so easy to put it back on. That is not so true anymore.

    (He would also take a piece of material that was going to the machine shop and say, “The part is in here, somewhere; the machinist is going to find it for us.” And the machinist did!)

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