Jan 18, 2019 | By Thomas

Los Angeles-based Relativity Space, a three-year-old start-up that aspires to build rockets using 3D printers, announced a contract Thursday with the U.S. Air Force to build and operate a launch facility at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

A computer rendering shows Relativity Space's rocket Terran launching from Cape Canaveral's LC-16 launchpad. Photo: Relativity Space

The startup joins SpaceX, United Launch Alliance and Blue Origin as the fourth private company to be given access to Launch Complex 16 (LC-16) at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. LC-16 was built by the Air Force in the 1950s, as a missile test site. By using the existing launch complex, Relativity Space believes it would save about four years that would have been required to build a launchpad from scratch. According to CNBC, there is no monetary exchange or lease payment to the Air Force for this contract. The agreement includes an option to extend for an exclusive 20-year term.

The company plans to spend more than $10 million to renovate the pad, build payload processing and integration hangars and install fuel and lightning protection systems. Relativity said the launch site will be ready before they are expected to launch the first payloads into low-Earth orbit at the end of 2020. Relativity is building a mid-size orbital rocket with 95 percent 3D printed parts. The company says they will be able to produce rockets with 100 times fewer parts than normal. For instance, Relativity’s engine injector and chamber are made of just three 3D-printed parts while such sections would traditionally require nearly 3,000 parts. Its 3D printed rocket, the Terran 1, which would only take 60 days to print, is expected to be able to launch payloads of up to 2,700 pounds. Each launch will cost about $10 million.

Artist rendering of Relativity Space's Terran 1 rocket on the pad at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station's Launch Complex 16.

Concept image of Relativity Space's Terran 1 rocket vertical on the pad at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station's Launch Complex 16. Photo: Relativity Space

Relativity, which was founded in 2016, has raised more than $45 million in venture capital from investors like Social Capital, Playground Global and even Mark Cuban. The company already has a 20-year leasing agreement with NASA's Stennis Space Center in Mississippi to test fire its methane-fueled Aeon engines - nine of which will power the Terran1's first stage along with one powering the upper stage.

Relativity’s Aeon engine undergoing a test fire at Stennis Space Center. Photo: Relativity Space

Relativity has built one of the world's largest metal 3D printers by volume, called Stargate. The Stargate 3D printer is capable of creating parts that are up to 20 feet tall and 10 feet wide. The company says that by relying on 3D printers like this for manufacturing, the team will be able to produce about 95 percent of the rocket through 3D-printed automation. The last 5 percent, which will be centered on testing, shipping and manual assembly, still requires human labor.

"Our long term vision is of 3-D printing rockets on Mars," said Relativity Space CEO Tim Ellis. "That’s really where we see automation and 3D printing going together with rockets in the future, is that we will be able to be that company."



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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