How long does it take to build a rocket? The answer's 60, and we aren't talking about months or weeks
Relativity is looking to send rockets to space that take mere days – and not years – to build
What’s stopping us from travelling to and from space on a regular basis? Technological and health constraints aside, one of the biggest hurdles still proves to be cost. But one company is determined to change that, and while it may not be as well-known as its personality-driven counterparts – think SpaceX and Blue Origin, owned by Elon Mush and Jeff Bezos respectively – it is nevertheless making headlines, especially in the venture capital sector.
Relativity Space, founded in 2015 by Blue Origin alumnus Tim Ellis, is armed with a vision to disrupt the industry by using artificial intelligence (AI) and autonomous robotics to build the world’s first 3D-printed space rocket. The long-term goal is to use this technology to build an industrial base on Mars.
The approach upends the way scientists and engineers make rockets, which is typically a slow, expensive and complicated process that can take two years to complete. Relativity claims that at its giant AI-driven printers at Stargate – its factory in Long Beach, California – production time can be cut to just 60 days.
The company also boasts that it uses 100 times fewer parts than a traditional rocket, resulting in a cheaper, yet more reliable product. After all, the fewer the parts, the less issue-prone it would be.
The results can be seen in the Terran 1 rocket, which is made from 95 per cent printed parts. Standing at 35m high, it’s powered by nine Aeon engines and will be capable of transporting a payload of up to 900kg into orbit.
It’s estimated that Terran 1’s mission will cost around US$12 million, putting it in the mid-price range and making it more than five times cheaper than SpaceX’s Falcon 9 US$62 million launch.
Despite the fact that Relativity has yet to enter space, its potential has helped it to raise US$500 million in a Series 5 round of funding in November 2020, as well as poach high-profile staff, such as Zachary Dunn, former senior vice president of production and launch at SpaceX. It also has eight launch customers already signed on, including two US government contracts, underlining the huge levels of interest in the commercial rocket sector.
Dunn, who is now senior vice president of engineering and manufacturing at Relativity, is busy preparing for Terran 1’s crucial maiden launch set to take place at Cape Canaveral in Florida later this year. If all goes to plan, Relativity will open a whole new set of doors to a universe of infinite possibilities when it comes to space travel.Relativity Space