Relativity Space, an aerospace startup with a focus on 3D printed rockets, recently penned a deal with the U.S. Air Force to begin launching its rockets from the Launch Complex 16 at Cape Canaveral in Florida. Launch Complex 16, also known as LC-16, is something of a historic site: it was built in the late 1950s to launch LGM-25 Titan missiles, was used by NASA for some time and has not seen a launch since 1988’s Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty.
Founded in 2015 by Tim Ellis and Jordan Noone, Relativity Space is quickly becoming one of the leading satellite launch companies largely thanks to its AM manufacturing approach. The LA-based company, which this past March announced a $35 million investment round, has developed the world’s largest metal 3D printer, the Stargate, which can be used to produce up to 95% of its rocket.
In recent years, the company has reportedly test-fired over 100 rocket engines built from 3D printed components, proving the viability of the technology for space applications. Crucially, 3D printing has enabled Relativity Space to streamline rocket engine production, consolidating part numbers from over 100,000 to just 1,000.
The first rocket Relativity Space plans to launch from LC-16 in Cape Canaveral will be the Terran 1, a medium-sized low-Earth orbit launch vehicle with a maximum payload of 1,250 kg. According to Relativity Space, the Terran 1 can be 3D printed in just 60 days. As of yet, no expected launch date has been revealed.
If early launches from Cape Canaveral pass environmental and other tests, the startup could extend its contract with the U.S. Air Force to a 20 year exclusive lease. The LA startup also has an agreement with NASA to test its 3D printed engines at the Stennis Space Center in Mississippi.
Down the line, Relativity Space also has intentions to bring its rocket 3D printing to Mars.