Maker of world’s first 3D-printed rocket plans launch facilities
The creator of the world’s first 3D-printed rocket, Relativity Space, has announced it will develop rocket launch facilities at Vandenberg Air Force Base.
Relativity Space makes the rocket, called the Terran 1, at its Stargate factory. If all goes according to plan, Terran 1 will eventually launch at Vandenberg.
Located near Lompoc, Vandenberg is the headquarters of the 30th Space Wing, which manages the Department of Defense’s space and missile testing, as well as satellite launches into polar and sun-synchronous orbits from the West Coast.
“The 30th Space Wing takes great pride in supporting the next generation of leaders in space,” Col. Anthony J. Mastalir, 30th Space Wing commander at Vandenberg Air Force Base, said in a statement. “We are impressed by Relativity’s innovative approach to reinventing aerospace manufacturing via 3D metal printing and robotics paired with an executive team of seasoned aerospace leaders. We look forward to working with Relativity as its West Coast launch partner for many years to come.”
According to Relativity’s news release on Wednesday, “The Right of Entry (RoE) allows Relativity and the 30th Space Wing to assess the viability of conducting launch operations at a location currently comprised of Building 330 and adjacent land area.”
If the B-330 launch site at Vandenberg is approved, it will be capable of supporting the world’s first and only fully 3D-printed rocket, Relativity’s Terran 1.
The new rocket has 100 times lower part count than traditional rockets and a maximum payload of 1,250 kilogram (or about 2,750 pounds). Because it is entirely 3D-printed at Relativity’s state-of-the-art Stargate factory, Terran 1 has a radically simple supply chain, and it can be built from raw material to flight in less than 60 days.
Relativity announced this year that it plans to operate from new headquarters in Long Beach.
“We’re honored to begin this partnership with the 30th Space Wing and join the exclusive group of private space companies able to conduct launches at Vandenberg,” Relativity CEO Tim Ellis said in a statement. “The West Coast launch facilities allow Relativity to provide affordable access to polar and sun-sync orbits that are critical for both government and commercial customers. The geographic southerly position of B-330 at Vandenberg offers schedule certainty and increased launch frequency that will be advantageous to our Terran 1 customers.”
In addition to the Right-of-Entry agreement at Vandenberg, Relativity also announced Wednesday that it has signed a launch contract with Iridium Communications Inc. to help with the Iridium NEXT satellite constellation. After SpaceX, Relativity is the only other private space company Iridum has chosen for launch.
“Iridium offers critical communications over the planet’s entire surface, and we are very proud to be their launch partner that supports this capability,” Tim Ellis, CEO and co-founder of Relativity Space, said in a statement. “As the first 3D-printed launch vehicle, Terran 1 offers uniquely disruptive flexibility, cost and performance advantages, especially for medium-payload missions that need dedicated launches.”
According to Relativity’s press release, “The second-generation Iridium constellation was completed in January 2019 and consists of 66 operational satellites and 9 in-orbit spares. An additional six satellites were manufactured as ground spares and remain in storage. Should the need arise to launch a ground spare, Relativity’s Terran 1 offers a cost-effective, efficient response time option for Iridium to quickly deploy a satellite to one of its six orbital planes. Relativity’s disruptive large-scale robotic 3D printing technology enables launches within months, instead of years.”
As it moves forward with its partnership with Iridium, the Vandenberg launch site will be crucial for Relativity because it provides access to the particular polar and sun-sync orbits needed to launch the satellites used for the Iridium NEXT satellite constellation. Relativity’s press release states that the launches will happen on an as needed basis and are planned for no earlier than 2023.
“The upgraded Iridium satellite constellation is operating incredibly well, but it’s prudent to have a cost-effective launch option available for future spare delivery,” Matt Desch, CEO of Iridium, said in a statement. “Relativity’s Terran 1 fits our launch needs to LEO well from both a price, responsiveness and capability perspective. And we know based on our previous experience that there are great benefits to engaging with a provider early on during development of the launch vehicle and it evolving around our particular needs.”
Relativity co-founder and Chief Technology Officer Jordan Noone told the News-Press as the company continues to grow that he is excited for what is ahead and is looking forward to new opportunities.
According to Relativity’s press release, “This agreement represents yet another milestone that the company secured with federal, state and local governments and agencies across the United States government. A new launch site at Vandenberg will be Relativity’s latest addition to its portfolio of major infrastructure partnerships, which also include a launch site Right of Entry at Cape Canaveral Launch Complex-16 and an exclusive-use Commercial Space Launch Act (CSLA) agreement for NASA test sites E4 and E2 at the NASA Stennis Space Center.” (The space center is in Mississippi.)