Aerospace startup secures $140 million to 3D print rockets

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On Tuesday, Relativity Space closed out its latest Series C funding round having secured $140 million. The Los Angeles-based startup will use its new cash injection to further its mission of making 3D printed commercial spacecraft. Thanks to its innovative design and construction methodologies, the company intends to conduct its first launch in 2021. After that, the three-year-old firm will pursue its long-term goal of bringing humanity to Mars.

Disrupting Commercial Spaceflight

Though the phrase “disruption” has lost some of its meaning due to overuse, it genuinely applies to Relativity’s operations.

Founded by former SpaceX and Blue Origin engineers, Relativity uses cutting-edge 3D printing technology to design and fabricate its interplanetary vehicles. Instead of a sprawling factory full of expensive, fixed tool equipment, the company works out of a warehouse filled with computer-aided design terminals, flexible tool fabricators, and a machine learning-enhanced foundry.

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The startup utilizes two different additive manufacturing techniques to produce its equipment. Relativity operates a 20-foot by 10-foot 3D printer called Stargate that weaves together its fuel manifolds. Notably, the company can refine its designs quickly using a powerful artificial intelligence program that calculates a rocket’s fuel dynamics.

Furthermore, Relativity uses direct metal laser sintering to make liquid oxygen engines for its spaceships. As a result, the firm has the capability to build fully functional engines in three pieces, not the traditional 3,000. The company has optimized its fabrication process to the point where it can produce that component in just nine days.

To illustrate the truly groundbreaking nature of the startup’s production capacity, it takes SpaceX around 18 months to construct a Falcon rocket. Comparatively, Relativity believes that it can build its inaugural space vehicle, the Terran 1, in less than 90 days.

One Small Step

With a roadmap that includes establishing rocket production facilities on Mars, Relativity is an audaciously ambitious startup. However, the young firm is close to validating its half-billion-dollar valuation. Since 2016, the company has performed more than 200 hot fire engine tests at NASA’s Stennis Space Center. Moreover, Relativity has secured a 20-year lease at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, which gives it a place to launch its rockets.

The startup has also generated considerable interest from investors and clients. With its last funding round, the firm has received financial support from Y Combinator (Twitch), Playground Global (Canvas Technology) and former Joker Jared Leto. Moreover, Momentus, Spaceflight, Telesat, and hundreds of other companies are eager to take advantage of Relativity’s technology.

Blue Origin, SpaceX, and Virgin Intergalactic have effectively kicked off a new space race. This time, instead of military dominance and national pride, the stakes are a burgeoning commercial space travel market that will be worth $20 billion in ten years. While these household-name companies have the edge in capital, no amount of money can replace real innovation.

With its cost-effective facilities, hyper-efficient production capability, and legitimately disruptive ethos, Relativity is primed to give Big Aerospace a run for its money. Literally.