Launch vehicle developer Relativity Space unveiled plans for its fully reusable, 3D printed medium-lift launch vehicle, Terran R. Along with it, the startup announced that it had raised $650 million from investors to help scale production, becoming the latest space startup to attract sizable funding. The surge in the rocket industry has led to fierce competition from commercial companies worldwide. Although most are leveraging 3D printing technologies to produce rocket parts, the ambitious California-based startup aims to disrupt 60 years of aerospace by using its proprietary 3D printing technology to build a rocket with 100 times fewer features in less than 60 days.
The sixth and latest Series E round drives the total funding raised to date to a total of $1.3 billion and puts Relativity at a post-money valuation of well over $4 billion, according to experts. The funding round led by Fidelity Management & Research Company and backed by existing investors, like billionaire entrepreneur Mark Cuban and actor Jared Leto, also adds new names to Relativity’s growing list of investors, including blank-check company Centricus and investment giant BlackRock.
Relativity will use the proceeds to accelerate the development of Terran R, its second launch vehicle, succeeding the smaller Terran 1 rocket to debut later in 2021 from the company’s Launch Complex 16 site at Cape Canaveral. The two-stage Terran R rocket will be 216-feet tall and 16-feet in diameter, with a reusable 5-meter payload fairing. Capable of delivering over 20,000 kilograms to low Earth orbit (LEO) in its reusable configuration, it will have more payload capacity than the partially reusable SpaceX Falcon 9’s 15,600 kilograms with drone ship landing recovery. It is also considered the second fully reusable commercial launch vehicle to be revealed publicly after SpaceX’s super heavy‑lift launch vehicle, Starship.
Just like Terran 1, Terran R is being created in Relativity’s Factory of the Future platform, which centers on Stargate, the world’s largest metal 3D printer that uses directed energy deposition to operate at never-before-seen scales. To build up printed parts layer by layer, the printer feeds a metal wire into the deposition area and uses energy to melt the wire. It relies on artificial intelligence (AI)-driven controls, exotic 3D printed material alloys created by Relativity, and unique design geometries that are impossible with traditional manufacturing, generating a faster rate of compounding progress and iteration in the industry.
Set to launch in 2024, Terran R will be outfitted with seven entirely 3D-printed Aeon R rocket engines capable of 302,000 pounds of thrust each. Its upper stage houses one Aeon Vac engine, with a pathfinder engine having already completed full duration testing at the beginning of this year. Aeon R is a scaled, high-pressure version of the gas generator cycle Aeon 1 already planning to fly on Terran 1, and similarly uses cryogenic liquid methane and oxygen propellants and runs with autogenous tank pressurization.
One of the most significant differences between the two rockets is reusability and size. Although they are both fully 3D printed, Terran 1 is a wholly expendable small lift launch vehicle. In contrast, the medium-lift Terran R is entirely reusable, including its engines, first stage, second stage, and payload fairing. While Terran 1 can accommodate small satellite customers’ evolving needs, Terran R will be ideal for next-generation large satellite launches and multi-planetary transportation that could help build humanity’s industrial base off Earth.
Relativity CEO and Co-Founder Tim Ellis said, “From our founding days in Y Combinator just five years ago, we planned on 3D printing Terran 1 and then Terran R – a 20X larger fully reusable rocket – on our Factory of the Future platform. Today we are one step closer to this goal. Together with our first rocket, Terran 1, our second product, Terran R, will continue to take advantage of Relativity’s disruptive approach to 3D printing – reduced part count, improved speed of innovation, flexibility, and reliability – to bring to market the next generation of launch vehicles.”
Combined with the ability to launch twenty times more payload than Terran 1, Terran R is expected to provide commercial and government customers affordable access to space in LEO and beyond. With low earth orbit, medium earth orbit, and geosynchronous satellite constellations representing the largest part of the growing market, the company believes Terran R will help accommodate its growing pipeline of commercial interest, including the recent signing of its first anchor customer launch contract for Terran R.
The rocket might also eventually offer customers a point-to-point space freighter capable of missions between the Earth, Moon, and Mars. After all, Relativity was founded with the mission to 3D print entire rockets and build humanity’s industrial base on Mars. Ellis said Terran R is the second product step in a long-term journey Relativity is planning.
To date, Relativity has secured multiple contracts across nine customers for Terran 1 from both private and government entities, including a recently announced U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) contract, facilitated by the Defense Innovation Unit (DIU), a Venture Class Launch Services Demonstration 2 contract with NASA as well as an on-demand satellite launch contracts with Iridium and Telesat.
Furthermore, the company announced it has now completed printing over 85% of the first Terran 1 flight article, including its first and second stage, keeping up momentum for its upcoming launch. Still, Ellis revealed a big demand to accelerate the development of larger launch vehicles, which is why they are ramping up production for Terran R and scaling the program even faster, building production capabilities at scale sooner than Terran 1. Part of the move also includes an accelerated hiring stage for 2021, as Relativity hopes to add 200 team members to its 400-plus workforce.
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