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Rocket startup Relativity foregoes bidding on present round of military launch contracts

The rocket startup Relativity has decided not to bid on the present round of National Security Space Launch (NSSL) Phase 3 contracts, saying the first launch of its new Terran-R rocket will not occur until 2026, well after those contracts are going to be awarded and flown.

Relativity was initially aiming to compete for the first round of NSSL Phase 3 contracts expected to be awarded later this year. However, the California-based company’s new Terran R rocket won’t fly until 2026 at the earliest, which falls outside the timeframe for this year’s NSSL Phase 3 awards. “We’ve been fairly transparent with our schedule over the last year and have continued to hit our milestones,” Joshua Brost, chief revenue officer at Relativity Space, told SpaceNews. “We’re very comfortable about on-ramping to NSSL in the future, likely next year as we approach that 12 months from initial launch.”

Relativity, after completing one partly successful launch of its smaller Terran-1 rocket in 2023, abandoned further development on that rocket in order to focus on its larger Terran-R. That decision however put it out of the launch market for years. I have always wondered if that decision was partly influenced by the increased launch regulation of the FAA in the past two years, which has caused the launches of new American rockets to almost cease. It might have realized getting Terran-1 launched again would be difficult and waste valuable company time and resources. Better to take a break on the hope that by 2026, the regulatory atmosphere might have improved.

Furthermore, Relativity uses very sophisticated 3D technology to build its rockets, an asset whose value on the market is maybe much greater than its rockets. It could be that Relativity is exploring this avenue at the moment, and we might find it never resumes launches.

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  • Richard Lender

    It could be that, but it could also be, as an additional motivation, that, like Rocket Lab, the Relativity leadership has decided that the only big money left in the commercial launch market is LEO constellations. SpaceX’s ride share programs have pretty well squeezed the small and cube sat launch markets.

  • Edward

    Richard Lender wrote: “SpaceX’s ride share programs have pretty well squeezed the small and cube sat launch markets.

    I can see why people would think that, but the truth is that the smallsat launch companies are currently launching at their maximum rate. Rocket Lab is working so hard to improve its own launch cadence for its Electron smallsat launch vehicle, and that should demonstrate this concept, but somehow people do not seem to see that part of the larger picture.

    If it weren’t for SpaceX’s ride share launches, hundreds of smallsat companies would not be able to do business. Another part of the larger picture is that for every ride share launch, SpaceX does not place almost two dozen of its Starlink satellites into orbit, and the company has a limited time to get enough satellites into orbit to satisfy the FAA. The original plan had been to have Starship operational by now, but government interference unnecessarily delays testing. This is the same interference that Robert wonders is the reason for the difficulty for the smallsat launchers to do business, too.

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