3D-printed rocket launch now has a launch site on the California coast

Relativity Space rocket launch is expanding its launch sites from one to two, with a new agreement to fly its future rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base in Southern California. The deal means that Relativity, which already has a lease for a launch site in Cape Canaveral, Florida, will be able to fly from the east or west coast of the United States when its rocket is ready.

Based in Los Angeles, Relativity Space is an ambitious rocket launch aimed at creating the world’s first fully 3D-printed rocket. The company, started by engineers from SpaceX and Blue Origin, is currently developing its first rocket called Terran 1. The goal is for each part of Terran 1, including its engines, fuselage, and propeller tanks, to be 3D printed to minimize the amount of labor required to manufacture the rocket and reduce costs. Relativity created its own 3D printer called Stargate to do the job, and the company recently moved to a new 120,000-square-foot facility in Long Beach, California, to further develop the rocket.

In January of last year, Relativity announced that it had signed an agreement for its launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station from a site called LC-16. The company plans to accelerate construction at the site to prepare for the Terran 1 maiden flight currently scheduled for late 2021. Meanwhile, Relativity has signed a “Right of Entry Agreement” at Vandenberg Air Force Base. The company is considering moving to a site called Building 330 and taking over the land around it.

“We have an identified site; we’ve been through a program review; we’ve done the initial paperwork to get the first step to an award-winning site, “says Tim Ellis, CEO of Relativity Space The edge. “It means that we are actually launching from this facility.” He says the new location will allow the company to launch into orbits that pass from north to south and on poles, which its rockets could not reach from launch eastward from the Cape.

As the company begins the process of moving to its new launch site, customers are taking notice. Relativity also announces that satellite operator Iridium will launch six satellites on Terran 1. Iridium finished launching its new constellation of satellites in early 2019, placing 66 operational satellites and nine spares into orbit on SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket. However, the company manufactured six replacement satellites that have remained stored in the ground, and Iridium wants the option to launch them in the future. Relativity’s Terran 1 will raise one Iridium satellite at a time, and all launches will take place from Vandenberg.

Ellis says the new launch site, combined with Relativity’s new 3D printing technique, helped secure the deal. “That is why Iridium chose us,” he says. “It was just confidence in our ability to achieve a successful launch, and then also how disruptive the payload performance capability and the price we can provide thanks to that 3D printing technology.” Relativity has said a flight from its Terran 1, which can carry approximately 2,755 pounds (1,250 kilograms) to low Earth orbit, will start at $ 10 million.

There is still a long way to go to demonstrate that Relativity’s rocket-building technique will work and be profitable. Ellis hopes to start assembling and testing the rocket by the end of this year. But the company has achieved significant milestones in its short five-year life. The company’s engineers have tested their engines at multiple test sites outside NASA’s Stennis Space Center in Mississippi. Late last year, the company announced that it had raised a total of $ 185 million, which will be enough to finance its first trade missions. Relativity also continues to attract well-known talents within the space industry. In May, the company hired Zachary Dunn from SpaceX, who had worked for the company led by Elon Musk for more than a decade and was the senior vice president of production and launch. And despite the economic downturn due to COVID-19, Relativity is increasing its hiring.

The addition of a second launch site is just another big milestone, something Ellis hopes will cement the company as a major player. “I mean when you look at how many companies are really bicoastal and have significant launch facilities, it’s a great sign of confidence in Relativity’s approach,” he says.