3D printer Relativity Space is expanding, with giant new facility to build reusable rockets
An aerial view of the company’s planned factory near Long Beach Airport in California.
3D-printing specialist Relativity Space is adding a second factory in Long Beach, California on the site of a former Boeing facility, where the company will move its headquarters and focus work on building fully reusable rockets.
“This is really going to let us continue to expand our ambitions, and of course, go build and develop and fly Terran R,” Relativity CEO Tim Ellis told CNBC.
The company, which raised nearly $1.2 billion in capital over the past eight months, expects to begin construction on the new facility this summer and the move in come January 2022. At more than 1 million square feet, the former Boeing C-17 aircraft manufacturing plant “is an absolutely monstrous building,” Ellis said.
“As historically an aerospace facility it means there are no columns in the middle of the factory at all, like a freely supported ceiling. It has giant bridge cranes that can lift heavy things, so it already comes outfitted with a lot of the pieces that make it a really fantastic aerospace factory,” Ellis said.
“It has the scale for us to continue to grow in the next couple of years but also the next decades to come,” he added.
The new building adds to Relativity’s 120,000 square foot current headquarters that it also built in Long Beach and moved into last year. The new HQ will have room for more than 2,000 employees, a metals laboratory, a machine shop, “dozens” of the company’s 3D-printer bays and a mission control center.
A closer look at a rendering of the company’s new factory near Long Beach Airport in California.
The company is focused on using 3D-printing to build rockets, a process that Relativity says requires thousands less parts and can be done in less than 60 days due to a simplified supply chain.
Relativity is already starting to build some early parts of its Terran R rocket, and could build the whole rocket in its existing location. But the larger building will have “over 100 times more capacity” to print than Relativity’s current building, Ellis said, and enough floor space to build “too many” rockets per year.
The new building has more space than Relativity needs to produce Terran R, but Ellis said that’s the only hint he can give for the company’s “other plans” for the facility.
Terran 1 on track
An artist’s rendition of Relativity’s Terran 1 rocket on the launchpad at Cape Canaveral’s LC-16 in Florida.
Relativity is developing two rockets, Terran 1 and Terran R, with the former a one-time use vehicle that competes with the mid-sized rockets of companies like ABL Space or Firefly Aerospace and the latter a fully reusable vehicle that would compete with SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rockets. Ellis said his company is now “assembling the first stage of the actual orbital flight rocket” for the first Terran 1 launch later this year.
“We’re entering the final engine qualification campaign right now for Terran 1,” Ellis said. “The Terran 1 launch site [in Florida] is also nearing completion … so a bunch of things are remaining on track internally for a launch at the end of this year.”
The company’s existing headquarters will continue to be used to produce Terran 1 rockets. Relativity now has more than 400 employees, and expects to add more than 200 more by the end of this year.
A timelapse from inside of a 3D-printing bay shows the manufacturing process for a Terran 1 second stage flight tank:
While Relativity’s rapid expansion and fundraising has seen it become one of the space industry most valuable private companies, with a $4.2 billion valuation, Ellis emphasized that those milestones are secondary to the goal of launching its first rocket later this year.
“At the end of the day, launching to orbit is what the business is all about. Of course, these are all great signals and momentum to get there but infrastructure alone isn’t winning, but it’s a huge enabler,” Ellis said.