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Capitalism in space: The smallsat company Relativity has leased a large manufacturing space at NASA’s Stennis Space Center in Mississippi where it plans to build its Terran 1 rocket, set for first launch in 2020.
The Stennis center will eventually employ 200 engineers, nearly double the company’s current workforce of 90. The state of Mississippi offered a “significant” incentive package, the company said in a statement. “We’re reducing the human labor component significantly,” said Ellis, a veteran from Jeff Bezos’ space firm Blue Origin, referring to Relativity’s two-story-tall 3D printer arms named Stargate.
Stargate will enable the production of an entire rocket in under 60 days, said Ellis, who is looking to launch nearly two dozen a year in the next five years to prove the company’s production method.
Terran 1’s debut launch is expected in 2020, costing satellite makers $10 million per flight and carrying around 2,755 pounds (1,250 KG) to low earth orbit. That lands the company between U.S.-New Zealand competitor Rocket Lab, whose Electron rocket aims to send nearly 500 pounds to space for $5.7 million, and Cedar Park, Texas-based Firefly Aerospace Inc’s Alpha rocket, which is expected to loft 2,200 pounds (1,000 kg) into low-Earth orbit at a cost of $15 million per flight.
The company has three launch contracts, but they won’t be real until they start launching. If their 3D printing approach works it will cut their costs significantly. Whether it will work or not remains an open question. The 3D printing work I’ve seen with other rockets raises questions about exactly how much of a rocket engine you can make in such a way.