Tag Archives: Relativity

Relativity leases manufacturing space from NASA

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.

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Relativity gets third launch contract

Capitalism in space: The new startup rocket company Relativity announced yesterday the signing of its third launch contract with Spaceflight, a company that until now has mostly specialized in arranging secondary payloads on big rockets for smallsat companies.

The launch services agreement between the two companies includes an order for one launch of Relativity’s Terran 1 rocket in the third quarter of 2021, with an option for an unspecified number of additional launches. Terms of the deal were not disclosed, although Relativity has publicized a list price of $10 million for the rocket.

Spaceflight will use those launches for dedicated rideshare missions, aggregating a set of small satellites to fly on the rocket.

The previous two contracts were with the long-established satellite communications company Telesat and a newer satellite company from Thailand called mu Space.

Relativity’s ability to get three launch contracts for a rocket that has not yet flown, no less tested, is somewhat puzzling. There are other companies, Rocket Lab, Vector, Firefly, and Virgin Orbit, that are either operational or have already tested prototype rockets or engines.

I suspect all the contracts have easy escape clauses, and are conditional depending on the company’s successful test program. I also suspect that the deals gave significant price breaks to all three companies for their willingness to sign under these circumstances.

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Relativity gets a second launch contract

Capitalism in space: The startup rocket company Relativity today announced the signing of a second launch contract for its as-yet untested Terran 1 rocket.

Relativity, the world’s first autonomous rocket factory and launch services leader for satellite constellations, today announced a partnership with mu Space, the innovative Thai satellite and space technology company, to launch a satellite to Low Earth Orbit (LEO) on Relativity’s Terran 1 rocket, the world’s first and only 3D printed rocket.

The first contract was with the well-established satellite company Telesat. The rocket, Terran 1, is scheduled for its first orbital test flight at the end of 2020.

So, where does Relativity stand among the leaders in the new smallsat commercial rocket industry? Let’s do a quick review.

Rocket Lab is of course far in the lead. It has launched four times, and its Electron rocket is now operational.

Second in this race is probably Virgin Orbit. The company has won several launch contracts, and says it will begin launch tests momentarily of its LauncherOne air-launched rocket.

Next comes Vector Launch, though some might argue it is ahead of Virgin Orbit. This company has obtained a large amount of investment capital, has completed two test suborbital launches, has a number of launch contracts, and hopes to do its first orbital launch later this year.

After these three companies there is a pack of rocket companies, all with investment capital, tentative launch contracts, and rockets that are only in the development stages. These include Exos Aerospace, Relativity, and Firefly, with Exos probably in the lead as it has already test flown its reusable SARGE suborbital rocket.

This list does not include the pseudo-private Chinese rocket companies, OneSpace, ISpace, LinkSpace, Landspace, and ExSpace, all of whom are independently developing smallsat rockets using Chinese investment capital but working under the supervision of the Chinese government. Several of these companies have attempted orbital launches. As yet none have succeeded.

Nor have I included India, which has announced it is going to build its own smallsat rocket to supplement its larger PSLV rocket in order to maintain its market share in this new smallsat industry. I also have left out a number of European companies, all of whom are far behind but nonetheless exist and are beginning development.

Other then the already-operating Rocket Lab, all of these companies are predicting their first rocket launches within the next three years. Some will succeed. Some will not. Nonetheless, the launch pace as we move into the 2020s is likely to get quite interesting.

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Smallsat rocket company Relativity gets its first launch contract

Capitalism in space: The smallsat rocket company Relativity has signed its first launch contract, even though they have yet to complete even one test flight.

Their chief executive nails the importance of this on the head:

In an interview, Tim Ellis, chief executive of Relativity, said the contract is the first customer for the Terran 1 that the company has announced. He said Relativity previously signed a contract with another customer that has yet to be announced.

“What’s really notable about this and why it’s so important for Relativity and the industry is that this is the first time that Telesat, or any major global satellite operator, has selected a completely venture-based aerospace startup for launch services,” Ellis said, noting that the companies had been in extensive discussions prior to announcing this contract. “The credibility of aligning with Telesat we believe is huge for what Relativity is developing.” [emphasis mine]

Their rocket, Terran-1, is not scheduled for its first orbital flight until the end of 2020. Yet, Telesat has given this company a contract. I suspect that contract has a variety of exit clauses, but I also wonder if it gives Telesat some interest in the company in exchange for backing it at this early stage.

Either way, the demand for launch services created by these proposed new smallsat constellations is forcing the satellite companies to make deals that they might never have considered in a less booming market.

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