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First Space Coast launch from Relativity Space gets green light with new round of funding

Company grows from 2 to 110 staff in 3 years, with multiple launch contracts

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – Relativity Space has the green light to get to orbit after receiving a new round of funding, the company said Tuesday.

The Los Angeles-area space start-up is currently targeting 2021 to launch its fully 3D-printed Terran 1 rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Station Launch Complex 16, currently under construction.

On Tuesday, Relativity Space announced it had closed on a $140 million Series C funding round led by Bond and Tribe Capital.

The biggest takeaway from this new round of funding, Relativity co-founder and Chief Technology Officer Jordan Noone told News 6, that this sets Terran 1 up for its first flight.

“The thing that excites me the most is that this is the financing that takes us to flight," Noone said, adding that it also separates Relativity " from the rest of the pack of smaller launch companies out there." 

Terran 1 is also going to have double the volume capability after some design changes to the rocket nose cone, with a larger 3-meter fairing.

After hearing feedback from its launch customers and perspective customers, Noone said Relativity leaders decided to increase the rocket fairing to 3 meters.

"It's a think a great, very public example of how the technology really plays in with the vision of quick iteration and flexibility and supportive the customer bases," Noone said. "They had a request and we were able to modify, and we're not changing anything in the factory in order to do that."

Noone said they were able to make the change quickly because of adaptability of the 3D manufacturing process.

Relativity Space CEO Tim Ellis in front of 3D printed rocket hardware at the company's headquarters near Los Angeles. (Image: Relativity Space)

"As quickly as you can change the programming of the printers, you can change the product coming out," Noone said. "No one else in the industry and the launch industry can change their designs and product as quickly as satellite customers need them."

The company has also introduced a new version of its large 3D printers, called Stargate. The original Stargate is about as large as a small room. The new version, or Stargate 2.0, is smaller and more versatile. The new, faster printers can be placed on platforms and can build as high as the ceiling, Noone said.

When News 6 visited Relativity Space headquarters near Los Angeles in June, Stargate 2.0 was still underdevelopment. See more from that visit and interview with Noone here.

In order to accommodate, the more flexible Stargate printers Relativity is moving into new facilities that will support a taller printing process. 

Relativity leases a 200,000-square-foot factory at NASA's Stennis Space Center in Mississippi, where it plans to create a 3D rocket manufacturing facility for Terran 1.

"We're maxed out and the current facilities, but we're moving into new one, both in LA and Mississippi, that have very much increase ceiling height," Noone said.

A rendering of Relativity's 3D rocket printing facility at NASA's Stennis Space Center in Mississippi. (Image: Relativity Space)

Down at the Cape, Relativity's launch site at LC 16 continues to stay on target, Noone said.

Relativity staff are currently working with the Air Force to finish environmental assessments and the pad build out is set to begin sometime at the end of this year or the beginning of next year.

The company's launch site, along with the rest of Florida, was spared by Hurricane Dorian last month, but Noone said he was more concerned for the Cape as a whole that was forecast to receive a direct hit at one point.

Noone said he was "worried for the entire Cape, because it's an ecosystem I endear down there ... that would have been difficult for everyone, which is bad for the industry as a whole."

In the coming months, Noone said Relativity will focus on continuing to hit its engineering goals with Terran 1 and the Aeon rocket engine in Los Angeles and Mississippi. On the Space Coast, the groundbreaking of the LC-16 launch pad will be a big milestone for the company.

Relativity will also continue to grow its team, according to the CTO. Noone expects the company will need to hire dozens of launch support staff on the Space Coast in the coming years as Terran 1 begins launching regularly.

Three years ago, Noone and Chief Executive Officer Tim Ellis founded the space start-up with the goal of revolutionizing the rocket industry and now, they have more than 100 staff members. Anyone interested in joining the team can visit relativityspace.com/careers.

Between the funding, printing processes and the right team coming together, Relativity is in a good place overall, Noone said.

"All the pieces being in place to carry us through that first flight is a really healthy spot to be in," Noone said.


About the Author:

Emilee Speck

Emilee is a digital journalist for News 6 and ClickOrlando.com, where she writes about space and Central Florida news. Previously, Emilee was a space writer and web editor for the Orlando Sentinel and a producer at the Naples Daily News. Emilee is a Space Coast native and graduate of the University of North Florida journalism program.

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