Relativity space is a 5 year old startup that just closed a $500 million dollar D round of funding. We are going to take a look at their 3D printed rocket engines and hear from CEO Tim Ellis along with critical employees Karin Kuo, David Lemier, Ryan Quinn, and Drew Hess.
3D printing offers a familiar yet unique set of benefits in engine manufacturing. Most notably interior features can be highly customized in comparison to the limited capabilities of CNC. Intricate AI generated interior structures can even reduce the weight of the engine which increase fuel efficiency.
Relativity Space has been scaling up quickly and now aims to produce 1 engine per week. They have come a long way still pursuing their initial vision. I suspect it will not be long before shares of Relativity hit the public markets.
Some say simplicity is the penultimate goal of good engineering. Any software engineer will tell you more code doesn’t equal good code. The best can achieve more with less. Relativity space brings this principal into the hardware sector seeking to drastically reduce parts required for rockets built to reach outer space.
The traditional model of building rockets involves high precision CNC subtractive manufacturing. Imagine an enormous block of metal chiseled into a desired rocket form, the biggest flaw in this method is inability to control interior features of the unit without post production processing and welding. Founder Tim Ellis realized in 2016 that 3D printing could eliminate the many flaws of CNC in rocket manufacturing, reducing waste and speeding up launch dates. Most importantly he realized nobody else was doing it!
With a cold call to Mark Cuban, Relativity raised an initial $500k seed round.
Through 2017 an additional $9.5M was raised in the A round.
March 27th, 2018 closed $35M B round.
October 1st, 2019 closed a $140M C round.
As of November 23rd, 2020 they have closed a 500M D round of funding led by Tiger Global Management with participation from new investors Fidelity Management & Research Company LLC, Baillie Gifford, ICONIQ Capital, General Catalyst, XN, Senator Investment Group, and Elad Gil. Existing investors participating in the round include BOND, Tribe Capital, K5 Global, 3L, Playground Global, Mark Cuban, Spencer Rascoff, and Allen & Company LLC, among others.
Part of the company vision is people beginning to occupy space with their technology. According to CEO Tim Ellis everything in space will need to be 3D printed.
The Terran 1 is the payload rocket being developed by Relativity Space. A dedicated mission can be purchased for a cool $12M which can accommodate 1,250kg payload to Low Earth Orbit (LEO) or 950kg to Sun Synchronous Orbit (SSO). The rocket is 115.4 ft tall with a 7.5 ft diameter. The first stage occupies 55.7 of the vertical ft with 9 Aeon 1 engines for a total of 228,600 lbf-vac fueled by liquid natural gas and liquid oxygen. The second stage is smaller, only 37.4ft tall with a single Aeon Vac Engine.
As mentioned earlier the Aeon engines are 3D printed reducing the total parts required for a spacecraft engine to under 1,000 as opposed to the 100,000+ part engines used in the past. Any time you can reduce parts required by magnitudes the savings are immense. This strategy is similar to an approach Tesla has been claiming to aim towards for a long time. Currently cars are made of a ton of different parts, Tesla aims to use injection molding to build an entire car chassis in one shot. The cyber truck utilizes steel origami for its structural one piece internal/external frame. Relativity space uses 3D printing because it allows customizability between engines. They can easily make slight modifications which will maximize efficiency for any particular mission. Further missions with heavier payload have different demands than small low earth orbit satellites.
The 3D printer they developed for rocket printing purposes is called Stargate. It is a robotic arm that 3D prints a custom metal alloy.
At this exciting stage of the technology it is certain many efficiencies and new strategies are being realized on a regular basis. With their recent $500M round of funding they will certainly accelerate space travel. Having already partnered with NASA, who knows which space spheroid they’ll be printing on next.