With backing from NASA, rocket startup Relativity Space is creating the first autonomous rocket factory. The company is planning to produce 95% of rocket components with 3D printing, and the first orbital launch is expected in late 2020.
This is a guest contribution by Egor Driagin, Chief Marketing Officer at Top 3D Shop
The new agreement will provide the California-based startup with exclusive access to NASA’s infrastructure and financial aid from the Mississippi Development Authority for building a large-scale highly automated 3D printing rocket factory. The company will lease a 20,000-square-meter building at NASA’s John C. Stennis Space Center for nine years. The test stands and all the necessary equipment on the site allow for convenient engine testing. The agreement provides an option to extend the lease for another 10 years. The company aims to create 200 jobs and invest $59 million in the state. In exchange, the state of Mississippi offers a reimbursement of expenses and a tax incentive package.
The new factory will produce Relativity Space’s first 3D printed rocket – Terran 1. This vehicle can carry up to 2,756 lbs. into low Earth orbit. Both stages will be powered by 3D printed Aeon engines fueled by methane and liquid oxygen. The first stage will be powered by nine engines, stage two will be equipped with only one. The rocket is priced at $10 million per launch. It is expected that due to the use of the 3D printing technology the manufacturing cycle will not exceed 60 days.
Although the company is planning to construct its own launch facility, the first rockets will be launched from Cape Canaveral. The launchpad and all the supporting infrastructure will be provided by the U.S. Air Force. The company was allowed to use Launch Complex (LC) 16, which was built for tests of Titan I and Titan II, and then Pershing I and Pershing II missiles. The last launch took place there in 1988.
Most of the metal parts will be manufactured by Stargate, Relativity Space’s first 3D printer. The scalable system features multi-axis robotic arms with lasers. The machine uses metal wire feedstock as a printing material. In February 2019, Relativity Space was granted a machine learning 3D metal printing patent, issued for “real-time adaptive control of additive manufacturing processes using machine learning” (US20180341248A1).
“This agreement demonstrates again NASA’s commitment to work with our industry partners to expand commercial access to low Earth orbit. This helps NASA maintain focus on the ambitious Artemis program that will land the first female and the next male on the south pole of the Moon by 2024,” said Rick Gilbrech, director of Stennis Space Center. “Relativity is a valuable member of the Stennis federal city and we look forward to building on our already successful partnership.”
The first orbital launch is expected in 2020. The company is planning to enter the commercial market in 2021.