Relativity signs deal to launch Impulse Space’s missions to Mars

Capitalism in space: The commercial rocket startup Relativity has now signed a deal with the orbital tug startup Impulse Space to launch at least one mission to Mars, possibly as early as 2024.

Impulse Space has announced that the company will launch the first commercial payload to Mars on board Relativity Space’s Terran R rocket. Under the new partnership, Relativity will launch Impulse’s Mars Cruise Vehicle and Mars Lander from Cape Canaveral, Florida, as part of an exclusive agreement until 2029.

The earliest anticipated launch window occurs between 2024 and 2025 and would make use of Relativity’s fully reusable Terran R rocket launching from Space Launch Complex 16 (SLC-16) at the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station.

Terran R is planned to complete the trans-Mars injection burn to place the cruise vehicle, carrying the lander, on a trajectory toward Mars. The cruise vehicle will then separate from the lander that, protected by an aeroshell, will enter the Martian atmosphere and attempt to propulsively land on the surface of the red planet.

To say that this plan is tentative is to state the obvious. First, Relativity has not yet launched its first rocket. It hopes to do so before the end of this year, but that rocket is the Terran-1, much smaller than the proposed Terran-R. Second, Impulse itself has not yet launched any tugs, though its founder, Tom Mueller, was the head engine development at SpaceX when it developed the Merlin, Draco, Super Draco, and Raptor engines. After leaving SpaceX he created Impulse Space to provide orbital and interplanetary transportation for others. It appears he has decided that an early Mars mission will be the best way to put his company on the map.