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Relativity edges closer to first launch

Relativity has begun stacking its Terran-1 rocket with a goal of soon rolling it out to the launchpad for static fire tests.

The launch date itself remains uncertain. Though the company hopes to lift-off before the end of the year, it also has not committed to that goal.

“We are confident in our tech readiness to launch this year, and we’re still marching toward that,” Ellis said. “But there are a few external factors as we’re getting close to the end of the year that could impact the timeline for us. It’s not a guarantee, but it could.”

Those external factors include other spaceport users in Florida, including uncertainty around the mid-November launch of NASA’s Space Launch System rocket, and blackout periods as part of the military’s Holiday Airspace Release Plan. This effectively precludes launches around Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day due to the high volume of airline flights.

Ellis said the company is progressing well toward securing a launch license for “Good Luck Have Fun,” and noted that the Federal Aviation Administration accepted its methodology for debris mitigation as well as its trajectory analysis software.

The article at the link adds some additional details about the company’s plans. This Terran-1 rocket appears to be its equivalent of SpaceX’s Falcon-1. The company plans to quickly replace it with its much larger Terran-R rocket, comparable to the Falcon-9 in power and price. And it already has won $1.2 billion in launch contracts, and hopes to launch within two years.

I wonder if Terran-R will launch before Blue Origin’s much touted but repeatedly delayed New Glenn rocket. The article itself appears to think so, since it focuses entirely on the competition between SpaceX and Relativity, as if Blue Origin and New Glenn do not even exist.

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  • Charles Lurio

    Bob, New Glenn is a beast, requiring seven BE-4’s in the first stage. And Blue seems finally to be just about ready to deliver the second such production engine for installation in the first stage of Vulcan.

    But I suspect there are other long poles in the tent.

  • Yo Charles: Blue Origin has succeeded in making me see them as an unserious company that happens to be awash in lots of cash. Such things can turn out great, but often they are no more than scams aimed at sucking money from investors.

    In this case the investor is Jeff Bezos. And unless he takes some hard action soon, there is a very good chance he will have been conned out of a lot of money.

  • Mitch S.

    He doesn’t mention Rocket Lab or ULA either.
    If BO does get the BE4 in production then Vulcan and maybe New Glenn will join the fray.
    Add in Neutron and Starship, and launch services will likely become a ruthlessly competitive biz in a few years.
    SpaceX has Starlink as an in-house customer. If BO gets off the ground they’ll likely have Kuiper.
    There’s OneWeb but how many others… as launch and sat prices come down regular telcos will be tempted… how many constellations can be out there without interfering with each other or others?, what will regulators allow?
    It’s interesting now but just wait!

  • Edward

    Robert Zimmerman wrote: “In this case the investor is Jeff Bezos. And unless he takes some hard action soon, there is a very good chance he will have been conned out of a lot of money.

    I’m not so sure that Blue Origin is a scam or a con. It is more likely that Jeff Bezos chose poorly when looking for a leader for the company. Bezos wants to do things differently than has been traditional, but he chose a leader who came from a traditional rocket company with a low production rate. Blue Origin is trying, in part, to be an engine company, but the leader chosen came from a buyer of engines, not a producer of engines.

    Since Bezos founded the company, it is unlikely that he intended it to scam him out of his money, but he may have chosen some people with the wrong skillsets. I suspect that Bezos truly desires to do great things in space but may have fallen for the 1970s Harvard philosophy that any leader can run any company. By the 1990s this philosophy was proved incorrect but not until after several companies and industries suffered from inadequate management and leadership. Apple Computer Company, for example, suffered under the leadership of a Coca Cola CEO. Newspace Blue Origin is now suffering under the leadership of an oldspace ULA CEO. (Although they may appear to be the same industry, oldspace caters to the government monopsony and newspace caters to a wide variety of other newspace companies, with different needs and expectations.)

    Meanwhile, I am rooting for Relativity. They have a plan for the future and are bringing it to fruition.

  • Edward

    To clarify what I wrote: “I suspect that Bezos truly desires to do great things in space but may have fallen for the 1970s Harvard philosophy that any leader can run any company.

    Bezos founded and successfully ran a service company, an online sales company. Now he is trying to lead a manufacturing company, not just a launch services company. The skillset is different.

    ULA is a launch company that manufactures its own rockets, but that form of manufacture is more of a one-of-a-kind business. When I was designing science instruments for spacecraft, I was doing one-off manufacturing, too. Even when I built 36 of the same thing, it was not done as a manufacturing exercise, just making a lot of something in a way that would have been done more efficiently if we were tooling up to build hundreds.

    Blue Origin and ULA may have designed their manufacturing the same way: tool it as though you are building one, then have everyone do the same work over and over to make additional units.

    Usually, I give a company’s new leader about a year and a half to turn things around, and we are coming up on that time for Bezos taking the reins of Blue Origin (reigning supreme over the company). However, he may not have started with the knowledge that he needed to make a real difference, so the question in my mind is whether he has been learning what needs to be done to make Blue Origin successful or if he still leans on his pre-2021 staff to know it. Clearly, those guys don’t — or didn’t — know how to do it.

    SpaceX seems to need to make a hundred Merlin Vacuum engines next year, and perhaps a few hundred Raptors. It is clear that a year ago they got serious about ramping up production rates. In the meantime, SpaceX cranks out Starlink satellites and ground stations at a quite high rate.

    I’m not sure whether the guys at Relativity can ramp up production rates, but they intend to reuse the Terran-R, so this may not be crucial to their success.

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