Capitalism in space: The rocket startup Relativity today announced that it has raised $650 million in investment capital for building a much larger version of its Terran rocket, one designed not only to be completely reusable, but to be able to launch more payload than SpaceX’s Falcon 9.
The company says the funding, which comes barely half a year after it raised a $500 million Series D round, will allow the company to accelerate development of the Terran R, a much larger rocket than the Terran 1 it is currently building and one that is intended to be fully reusable. Relativity is targeting a first launch of Terran R in 2024.
In an interview, Tim Ellis, chief executive of Relativity, said the plans for Terran R date back to the company’s founding in the Y Combinator business accelerator. “It’s actually been in the plans since five years ago, when I founded the company. We just haven’t talked about it yet,” he said. “But even in Y Combinator, we were talking about building a fully reusable rocket that was larger than Falcon 9.”
…Another key element of Terran R is Relativity’s intent to make the vehicle fully reusable, including its upper stage and payload fairing. “There won’t be a part that’s not reusable on the vehicle,” Ellis said, crediting that to the company’s significant investment in 3D-printing technologies.
It is not clear exactly how they will get this new rocket’s upper stage to return to Earth unscathed. SpaceX considered trying it with the Falcon 9 upper stage and decided it was not worth the cost. If Relativity succeeds however they will have a rocket that can beat SpaceX in price.
And about time. Right now none of the commercial rocket companies aiming to compete directly with SpaceX — ULA, Arianespace, Blue Origin — seem willing to really compete. They are either not working to build reusable rockets or have been doing so at a pace that is much too slow. Instead, they all seem to think that they can rely on big government contracts to stay afloat.
Not only is having no competition unhealthy in the long run for SpaceX, it is very bad for the customers who are looking for transportation into orbit. For a new company like Relativity to come forward with new ideas, new technology, and (most important) lots of cash to directly challenge SpaceX is a welcome development. Now they need to deliver.
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