Relativity Space to open 200,000-foot 3D rocket printing facility at Stennis Space Center

Terran 1 rocket to launch from Cape Canaveral in 2020

By Emilee Speck - Digital journalist

INGLEWOOD, Calif. - The venture-backed 3D-printing rocket company Relativity Space continues to expand its footprint ahead of the first launch from Cape Canaveral with a new 220,000-square-foot facility at NASA's Stennis Space Center.

Before Relativity Space announced the lease of a NASA building in Mississippi the company's huge 3D printer known as Stargate, used to autonomously print its Terran 1 rocket, was only home to a discrete headquarters in Inglewood, California. With the NASA building at Stennis, Relativity will now be able to create a full production line of 3D printers to manufacture rockets.

The Mississippi Development Authority provided a boost for Relativity's expansion at Stennis with a significant cost reimbursement and tax incentive package. The new facility is expected create $59 million in job revenue in Mississippi.

If successful, Terran 1 will be the first fully 3D printed rocket ever to launch. Relativity currently already has three launch contracts for low-Earth orbit payloads.

Founded in 2015, Relativity quickly went from a small handful of employees to about 90 at its Los Angeles-area headquarters. The nine-year lease with NASA will more than double that workforce, according to Relativity Space co-founder and chief technology officer Jordan Noone.

Relativity Space co-founder Jordan Noone next to a 3D printed Aeon rocket engine at the company's headquarters on June 10, 2019. (Image: Emilee Speck/WKMG)

"That building has a huge amount of value adds to help accelerate our schedule including an 80 foot-high bay and there's a 50 ton crane in there," Noone said. "As far as the vision for what goes in that high bay, it's our taller printers as we continue to develop them."

Noone, 26, and co-founder Relativity Space CEO Tim Ellis, 28, started their company with the idea that 3D printing will also be utilized one day off Earth.

 "We really have that long term vision of seeing a 3D printer on Mars, making equipment and rocket parts in order to support a civilization," Noone said.

While other space companies do use 3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing, to create some parts of a rocket, Relativity's Terran 1 and its engines are almost entirely 3D printed.

Relativity's senior raw material supply engineer, Eliana Fu, said 3D printing helps cut down the time from manufacturing to launch. Fu said a Terran 1 rocket can be manufactured in 60 days, a process that traditionally would take up to six months without utilizing this technology.

Relativity Space senior raw material supply engineer Eliana Fu holds up a tiny version of one of the 3D printers the company uses to print its Terran 1 rocket. (Image: Emilee Speck/WKMG)

"It allows the capacity to actually be right at the site of the testing firing or flight, which is amazing that will be a huge time saver and also help with productivity and understanding how we can build better structures in a shorter time frame," Fu said."What that does is it also accelerates access to space for everyone."

Terran 1 will launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Launch Complex 16 as soon as next year for the first time.

"It will be really exciting seeing the first flight next year, and that's just the beginning for us though as a company," Noone said.

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