Thursday, October 3, 2019

Startup Relativity Space Secures $140 Million Funding

Innovative startup Relativity Space now seems to be ready to join the crowded small satellite launch service provider market after getting another round of venture capital to continue their development work.
Amid this market, however, Relativity Space announced Tuesday that it has closed a $140 million Series C funding round led by Bond and Tribe Capital. With this funding, Relativity Chief Executive Tim Ellis tells Ars the company is fully funded to complete development of its Terran 1 rocket and reach orbit.

"Fundraising is always a process," Ellis said, noting the participation of new investors Lee Fixel, Michael Ovitz, Spencer Rascoff, Republic Labs, and Jared Leto, along with participation from current investors Playground Global, Y Combinator, Social Capital, and Mark Cuban. It speaks to the quality of Relativity's plans, he said, that such a diverse group investors are backing the ambitious firm. "These investors are very sophisticated when it comes to the financial business case," Ellis told Ars in an interview.
Relativity Space seems to be betting that their proprietary use of 3D metal printing will get their costs down enough to become the most attractive player in the market. 
Ellis told FLORIDA TODAY that printing parts has several advantages compared to traditional methods, including faster turnaround, lower costs, less tooling, and more automation, to name a few. He said his company can build a rocket from 95% 3D printed parts in about 20 days, which is significantly faster than traditional spaceflight methods.
The company had been announcing that the first flight of their Terran rocket would be next year, but part of this announcement of venture capital was that the first flight slips out into 2021.  Part of the reason for this delay is that they will increase the size of the payload fairing on the Terran's upper stage from two to three meters diameter as part of a plan to double the available volume.

The company has been filling in the bubbles on the checklist of what they'll need to fly.  They've contracted with NASA's Stennis Space Center in Mississippi to test fire engines, completing 200 tests to date, and signed a contract to lease a large (220,000 sq. ft.) building on the Stennis Space Center to build their vehicles.  Finally, they've signed a contract to use Launch Complex 16 on Cape Canaveral for launches.
The main question, then, is whether Relativity can ultimately make 3D printed technology work on a large scale. By announcing a new round of funding, key investors certainly believe in their path forward. But by also announcing a schedule slip, the company has raised a few concerns about the technology leap needed to entirely automate the fabrication of a large rocket capable of lifting 1.25 tons to low-Earth orbit.

Relativity co-founders Tim Ellis, left, and Jordan Noone pose with a 3D printed second stage of the Terran 1 rocket.  Relativity Space photo. 


  1. Very interesting. I could see this being used in space to harvest ice asteroids. Print the engine, mine the asteroid for fuel, add on a control center (manned or unmanned) and, like in an Asimov story, whoooosh cometh the water.

    Heck, drop enough into Mar's atmosphere and you could probably kickstart
    a thicker and vastly wetter atmosphere.

    Interesting. Will be curious to see how their tanks and engines hold up to reality.

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  3. If you can 3D print ICBMs, then 3D printing guns is probably obsolete.

    1. Obsolete doesn't seem to be quite the right word, because obsolete implies it's no longer done. 3d printing guns is in a different place. It seems to me there's no question of whether technology allows it to be done, the problem is that the laser sintering metal printers like Relativity Space uses are really expensive. Printing a gun is routine enough if you have a (several?) hundred thousand dollar printer but kind of hard if you print plastic.

      I've said it time and time again, when a sub-$1000 3D printer that can print moderately strong metals gets here, that changes just about every paradigm there is.

  4. Can someone explain to me how to get startup funds? Of all the things I learned in school this would have been among the most useful and was totally ignored. This guys are in their 20s and got $185 million. Who the shit gives that much money to guys like that and how does someone get in touch with them?

    1. LOL.

      Understand that I can only give you broadest overall picture - never done it, never been around it. If I was a bazillionaire CEO, I probably wouldn't be blogging here.

      There are venture capital (VC) companies that specialize in this sort of investment. If you have the next big idea, they're looking for you. These companies are in the phone book, but you can search for venture capital companies and get a list.

      Next, you put together a business plan and some details on why your idea is the killer idea of the century, but not too much details on the tech because they're not techies. I also always heard to have an "elevator version", a few seconds to half a minute, to grab their attention should you get that rare instance where you jut happen to bump into someone. Or maybe to break the ice.

      Bear in mind that these companies don't expect to make money on everything they fund. They expect some percentage will fail, some will be around the break even point, but if they get one or two that return a metric butt load of money, the VC company's the winners.

      But, also from what I've heard, don't expect to get their attention without some investment of your own. It's easier to get funding if you've gotten your company up the point where you've got some sort of working prototypes if possible, a beta version or something to show you've been working on it for a while.

      Let's say you get an idea for that under-$1000 3D metal printer. You'd be more likely to get VC money if you've maxed out your credit cards and gotten loans from everywhere but can show a crude prototype than if you have an idea and haven't put any effort into developing it.

  5. I wish I could read a news story about a company building an electro-magnetic catapult for launching cargo, and eventually passengers, into space. Rockets are cool, but fundamentally limited.