Relativity Space inks deal with OneWeb, reaches $1.2B in Terran R launch contracts

Relativity Space will be sending OneWeb’s second-gen broadband satellites to orbit starting in 2025 using its fully reusable 3D printed rocket Terran R, under a new multi-launch agreement. This is the fifth customer for Terran R, and the only one that has been publicly named, bringing the total value of all binding launch agreements for that rocket to over $1.2 billion.

It’s a high degree of customer conviction in Relativity, which has yet to send even its first rocket, the small, fully expendable Terran 1 to orbit.

“To have such large contracts signed before launching, and before even launching Terran 1, I think is really speaking to the confidence that people have in the team and in our approach,” Relativity founder and CEO Tim Ellis told TechCrunch.

While Relativity declined to share the financial terms of this specific deal, the company did confirm that the agreement is for a number of launches in the double-digits. Given that Relativity will be deploying OneWeb’s Gen 2 satellite network under a primary deployment contract – meaning this is what will get the Gen 2 network up for the first time – they’ll likely work fast.

“We keep hearing from customers that there needs to be a second, quickly-moving, disruptive launch company that has low prices, is reliable and is able to scale production quickly and actually serve what is now becoming an even more kind of supply constrained market,” Ellis said.

The road to launch

To meet the 2025 deadline with OneWeb, Ellis said Relativity will likely conduct the first orbital flight test of Terran R around the end of 2024 or the beginning of 2025. That means these launches for OneWeb will be some of the first Terran R conducts for commercial customers.

OneWeb had to scramble to find alternate launch arrangements after it said it would no longer use Russia’s Soyuz rockets, a direct result of the series of sanctions imposed by much of the Western world after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February. The company quickly signed launch deals with SpaceX – a competitor – and New Space India. But talks between OneWeb and Relativity preceded the war, Ellis said.

“We were talking to them well before the Russia-Ukraine conflict erupted. This has been in the works for quite some time.”

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Terran R is the company’s larger rocket made to serve medium- and heavy-lift markets, with a 20,000-kilogram payload capacity. That’s slightly less than SpaceX’s Falcon 9, which has a capacity of 22,800 kilograms, and greater than Rocket Lab’s next-gen rocket Neutron which will have a max capacity of 15,000 kilograms.

Like its smaller sister, Terran 1, Terran R is fully 3D printed. Unlike Terran 1, however, it is designed to be fully reusable. Both rockets will eventually use Relativity’s fully-3D printed engine, the 250,000-pound-thrust Aeon-R. Ellis said there will be more Aeon-R engines on the first stage of Terran R than previously announced, though he didn’t give a specific number.

Both rockets are made using what is the company’s strongest weapon: Stargate, its line of 3D printers. The company has just launched the fourth generation of Stargate, which Ellis said can print up to 10 times faster than the previous generation. But just how fast is that? At the current rate they’re demonstrating, a Stargate can print a Terran 1 fuselage in just five days.

Relativity Space Tim Ellis Stargate

Relativity Space CEO Tim Ellis with Stargate

“That’s been a really big enabling technology to be able to go as fast as we have been,” he said.

They also have the capacity to print an even larger rocket than Terran R, even one potentially comparable of SpaceX’s Starship. “With the 3D printing tech we can definitely adapt and I think if things change, then we can certainly build something larger.”

But, he added, he’s not opposed to being a customer of Starship, either. “Our long-term mission remains that we want to help build an industrial base on Mars and helped make humanity multiplanetary.”

Relativity is pushing back the demo launch of its Terran 1 rocket to early 2022

3D rocket printing company Relativity Space has pushed back the date of the demonstration launch of its lightweight Terran 1 rocket from winter 2021 to early 2022. The company announced the updated schedule on Twitter, while also confirming that the launch will take place out of Cape Canaveral in Florida.

Relativity also said Stage 2 passed its cryo-pressure and hydro-mechanical buckling test. Stage 1 structural testing is to follow.

The news of the delay comes just two months after Relativity said (also on Twitter) that the Terran 1 would launch in winter of this year. The rocket that will perform the orbital demonstration flight will not be carrying any payload, but the company has already scheduled a second launch to take place June ’22. That rocket will carry CubeSats to low Earth oribt as part of NASA’s Venture Class Launch Services Demonstration 2 (VCLS Demo 2) contract.

A company spokesperson told TechCrunch that there is “no one single reason” why the launch date has been pushed back. “Over the past year, Relativity has i.e. refined Terran 1’s architecture, developed a brand new engine and upgraded its material while COVID slowed a few of its processes down,” the spokesperson added. “They updated the demonstration launch to early 2022 so they can better coordinate with partners.”

The launch will mark the world’s first of an entirely 3D printed rocket. Relativity’s tech has garnered quite a lot of interest from investors — so much that it’s valuation vaulted to $4.2 billion after a $650 million funding round this summer. In addition to the Terran 1, the company is also developing a second heavy-lift, fully-reusable rocket it’s calling Terran R. It aims to launch that rocket as early as 2024.

Relativity Space will open a 1 million square foot factory to scale Terran R production

Fresh off the heels of a $650 million Series E funding round, 3D printed rocket startup Relativity Space is now preparing to increase production capacity by a factor of ten, with the opening of a 1 million square-foot factory headquarters in Long Beach, California.

Relativity’s current factory, a 150,000 square-foot facility also in Long Beach, will remain in production. That factory will continue to focus on the company’s first rocket, the expendable Terran 1 that’s designed for smaller payloads. The new facility is aimed at building out the development and production of Terran R, Relativity’s heavy-lift, fully-reusable two stage rocket. Neither rocket has seen orbit yet, but Relativity aims to launch Terran 1 in June 2022 and Terran R as early as 2024.

Along with the factory opening, which is slated for January 2022, the company is also planning a hiring push – Relativity hopes to add at least 200 employees by the end of this year, CEO Tim Ellis told TechCrunch. The new facility has a labor force capacity of over 2,000, so “we’re certainly going to get into the thousands [of new hires] as we’re launching Terran One and then kicking off Terran R development as well,” Ellis said.

The company’s proprietary 3D printers, Stargate, can print either of the company’s two rockets. But they’re capable of much more than that – theoretically, at least. The Terran R is reusable, so the company will likely need to manufacture far fewer rockets than what the massive new facility will be capable of producing. So that begs the question: what are all those printers going to make?

Ellis alluded to other possibilities. “While it’s building Terran R, and doing Terran R development initially, certainly over time we’ll be able to continually upgrade and reconfigure this factory of the future to be able to build whatever else in aerospace that we’d go into next,” he said. But he stayed mum on exactly what that might look like.

“We will actually have a lot of extra print capacity over time, because we’ll be reusing Terran R. So at that point, we’ll have a ton of printers with a bunch of free time. You could imagine what one does, once you have that capability, you just keep diving into the next product to disrupt.”

In addition to the Stargate printers, the space will also house customized DMLS metal printers, a metallurgical laboratory, machine shop, and a mission control center. In the mission control center, true to its name, engineers and mission operators will be able to monitor and manage launches that take place in Cape Canaveral, Florida or Vandenberg Space Force Base in California.

Relativity is leasing the space “for a long period of time” from property owner Goodman Group, Ellis said. The site was previously being used by Boeing to manufacture C-17 cargo military planes.