Relativity Space looks to California for second launch site

Fully 3D-printed rocket to launch from Cape Canaveral, California launch sites

A rendering provided by Relativity Space of the launch site at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. (Relativity Space)

The 3D printing rocket company Relativity Space slated to start launching from Cape Canaveral as soon as next year signed an agreement with the U.S. Air Force to explore a second launch site, this one in California.

Relativity Space is developing its Terran 1 rocket, the first fully 3D-printed launch vehicle, at its headquarters in Long Beach, California. The fast-growing startup uses artificial intelligence and robotics to print its rocket parts, including the Aeon engine.

The company already has a launch site at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Launch Complex 16, which is under construction. On Wednesday, Relativity Space revealed it has signed a right of entry agreement with the U.S. Air Force 30th Space Wing to develop launch facilities at Vandenberg Air Force Space.

The agreement allows Relativity and the 30th Space Wing to assess the viability of conducting launch operations at Building 330 and nearby land area. If approved, the B-330 launch site will allow spacecraft launches to polar and sun-synchronous orbits from the West Coast, according to a news release. The Cape Canaveral launch site will be used for low-Earth orbit, medium orbit and geosynchronous equatorial orbit.

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“We’re honored to begin this partnership with the 30th Space Wing and join the exclusive group of private space companies able to conduct launches at Vandenberg,” Relativity CEO Tim Ellis said in a statement. “The West Coast launch facilities allow Relativity to provide affordable access to polar and sun sync orbits that are critical for both government and commercial customers. The geographic southerly position of B-330 at Vandenberg offers schedule certainty and increased launch frequency that will be advantageous to our Terran 1 customers.”

The new site at Vandenberg expands Relativity’s growing footprint across the country. Earlier this year the company moved into its new 120,000-square-foot headquarters in Long Beach, California. It also has test and development sites at NASA’s Stennis Space Center.

Relativity is on track to begin launching Terran 1 from Cape Canaveral in late 2021.

A Relativity Space robotic engineer operates Stargate, the world's largest 3D printer, on June 10, 2019 at the company's California headquarters. (Image: Emilee Speck/WKMG)

The venture-backed company was founded in 2015 by Ellis and Chief Technology Officer Jordan Noone to develop the world’s largest 3D printer to make printing larger rocket hardware possible. In five years Relativity has grown from a team of two to a roster of nearly 150 staff, obtaining talent from companies including SpaceX and veterans of the U.S. space program.

Ahead of its first launch, Terran 1 has been chosen by leading satellite companies to carry payloads to orbit. Most recently, Iridium Communications signed a launch contract with Relativity for up to six satellite launches. Those launches could begin no earlier than 2023 from Vandenberg.

The rocket name, Terran, means of this Earth because the rockets are 3D printed with materials found on our planet. Using its robotic 3D printer, called Stargate, Relativity is able to make rockets faster and using fewer parts. The cost of a Terran 1 starts at $10 million and can be ready to launch in under two months, according to the company.

Eventually, Relativity’s founders say they want to take the 3D-printing concept off Earth and print rockets on the red planet with Martian materials using artificial intelligence learning printers.