Startup Company Relativity Space Unveils Plans for Fully Reusable Orbital Rocket

By James White Wednesday, March 3, 2021

The private space industry is bustling with activity, from the announcement of the first civilian-only space mission to the successful launch of a prototype rocket powered by biofuels. Startup companies and businesses in the aerospace industry are working on numerous projects, including California-based startup business Relativity Space, which recently announced its plans to create a fully reusable orbital class rocket.

“I’ve always been a huge fan of reusability,” said Tim Ellis, CEO and co-founder of the aerospace startup company. “No matter how you look at it – even with 3D printing, and dropping the cost, and [increasing the] automation of a launch vehicle – making it reusable has got to be part of that future.”

Relativity Space has raised nearly $686 million since its founding, with support for the company coming from investors including Tiger Global Management, Tribe Capital, and Mark Cuban.

A rocket flying into space.

3D Printing the Future of Aerospace

Co-founded in 2016 by Ellis and entrepreneur Jordan Noone, the California aerospace startup business specializes in manufacturing rockets through the use of 3D printing technology, artificial intelligence (AI), and autonomous robots. The startup company claims to use some of the world’s largest metal 3D printers in its Stargate factory in tandem with intelligent software and proprietary metal alloys to automate production of its Terran rockets.

Terran 1, the first rocket developed by Relative Space, can be built from raw materials and made launch-ready in under 60 days. The startup aerospace company claims that its Terran 1 is one of the most cost-effective launches available, running about $12 million per launch. Roughly 95% of the parts are printed in the Stargate facility, which greatly simplifies the supply chain involved in the construction of the spacecraft.

Now, the business plans to create the Terran R, a larger, reusable spacecraft in an attempt to compete with the Falcon 9 from Elon Musk’s SpaceX. Relative Space expects the Terran R to be capable of launching payloads in the neighborhood of 20,000 kilograms into low-earth orbit, a steep upgrade from the Terran 1’s max payload of 1,250 kilograms.

The Reusable Space Race

While Elon Musk’s Falcon 9 from SpaceX is currently partially reusable (the business is able to salvage the rocket booster as well as the nose cone), Relativity Space’s Terran R is expected to be fully reusable. SpaceX’s aerospace company is working on its own fully reusable prototype dubbed “Starship.”

While the startup company has not given an estimated cost per launch for the Terran R yet, Ellis expects the costs to be competitive in the reusable aerospace industry. The SpaceX Falcon 9 currently sports a $62 million price tag for those looking for a launch service.

Market research projects that the global aerospace market will reach $378.5 billion by 2023. Private aerospace companies like SpaceX and Relativity Space, among others including Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin, will continue to propel the industry forward.

About the Author


Headshot of James White

James White is a Michigan State University graduate with a BS in Environmental Biology. He is interested in reporting emerging trends in technology, especially with regard to alternative energy and environmental conservation.

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