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Inside Relativity Area & # 39; s "Manufacturing unit of the Future" 3D printing rocket

Relativity Space's third generation 3D printer in its new headquarters. CEO Tim Ellis is ready to scale.


Missile builder Relativity Space moved into its new headquarters in Long Beach, California this summer – and the company is already making the parts it needs for its first launch late next year.

Relativity is currently building the first iteration of its Terran 1 rocket. Unlike other rockets, Relativity uses multiple 3D printers, all of which were developed in-house to build Terran 1. The rocket is designed to have around 95% of its parts 3D printed, which makes Relativity's rocket less complex. and faster to build or modify than traditional missiles. According to Relativity, the simpler process will be able to convert raw material into a rocket on the launchpad in less than 60 days.

While Relativity made progress in testing its 3D printing technology, the company's 120,000-square-foot headquarters will serve as the foundation for its manufacturing and startup business. Relativity is now the third generation of 3D printers that can produce a single piece of metal up to 32 feet high – as high as the new ceiling will allow.

"It will be the base of our efforts for some time as it will allow us to fully produce the Terran 1 missile," Zach Dunn, vice president of factory development for Relativity, told CNBC. "It's the factory of the future."

The company's new headquarters are equipped with Relativity, which recently hired its 200th employee. The expansion was made possible after raising $ 140 million last year. Investors include Social Capital, Playground Global, Y Combinator, Bond Capital, Tribe Capital, Jared Leto and Mark Cuban.

Production in the new headquarters is running

The empty factory hall before the introduction of the theory of relativity.

Relativity space

Dunn is one of the youngest employees to join SpaceX nearly four months ago after nearly 13 years – most recently as Senior Vice President for Startup and Production. Speaking for the first time since leaving Elon Musk's rocket company, Dunn said the theory of relativity exceeded his expectations.

"We have our design offices one door, literally two steps away from our design area. The ability to see the hardware from your computer and analysis tools means we have a super tight iteration loop, which is great," said Dunn.

The theory of relativity retained and upgraded the first and second generation printers it developed. However, the new factory means more space. The company will assemble the robotic arms for the third generation printers in July. Relativity now has at least seven 3D printers in total – and CEO Tim Ellis told CNBC the company has more to come.

"The new printers are up and running and are currently printing our first flight parts. So we have several printers building the first rocket that we will actually fly into orbit," Ellis said. "We are building our first stage for our first flight as well as the second stage that we started a few weeks ago."

Several Relativity investors checked out the new headquarters, Ellis added, and team members from the Bond Capital and Tribe Capital groups visited recently.

Third generation 3D printer

The factory has five enclosures for Relativity's new printers. The only part of Terran 1 that can't be 3D printed is the electrical systems.

"Two buckets of raw material come in and then the printers configure that material into a rocket," Ellis said.

The new 3D printer housings will be built in August.

Relativity space

Terran 1 will be about 30 meters high on the launch pad, so relativity builds the missile in sections and then uses a special "horizontal connection system" to join the pieces together. This system is essentially just another robotic arm sewing together sections of weld that Ellis found could work on two missiles side by side.

"The advantage there [with the horizontal connection] is that we can run more third-generation printers in parallel to reduce the overall construction time of the vehicle," said Dunn. "We can print a foot [made of metal] on any printer every day. So if we run on all the printers together, we can print a rocket in less than a month."

Earlier this year, the Theory of Relativity confirmed through a series of pressurization tests that their 3D printing process can withstand the intense forces of a launch. Ellis pointed out that the process the theory of relativity uses makes the joints stronger than the rest of the parts because the printers make all the connected sections a little thicker than the rest.

"Our custom aluminum alloy has been continuously developed and iterated. This is one of the great advantages of not selling the 3D printing systems but being end users," said Ellis.

Relativity's all-in approach to 3D printing has sparked skepticism among other rocket manufacturers, all of whom use at least a limited amount of additive manufacturing. Ellis referred to data from DARPA, the agency for advanced defense research projects, showing that the aerospace industry "is still using the same basic manufacturing tool for production, design and development approaches as it was 60 years ago".

"Compared to other industries [like automotive], DARPA data goes showing that aerospace is actually going the other way. The time to design, develop and iterate a new product is actually slower today than 60 years ago, "said Ellis. "History will be the best indicator, but I think where other people are wrong is not thinking with sufficient vision about what the future will be like."

Ellis has been trying to achieve his vision since founding Relativity five years ago. And Dunn, who has a decade of experience building the most commonly fired US missiles, repeated his new boss.

"Using additive manufacturing for aerospace and missile applications is the real business. It can and will absolutely work," said Dunn.

A time lapse of Relativity's Stargate 3D printer building a missile tank.

Relativity space | gif from @thesheetztweetz

Realtivity's Terran 1 rocket consists of only 730 individual parts – about 100 times less than the typical rocket. The reduced complexity also brings with it the ability to make changes and upgrades quickly when relativity is started.

"Not only will we be able to build a rocket in 60 days, we'll be able to build a better version 60 days later. And with every version we make, we will optimize the mass to make it lighter, cheaper and faster." to produce for us, "Ellis said." This is a complete rewrite of the value chain, and I think that's why people miss it – they see it as a manufacturing technology. But it really is a whole new way of building, designing, and developing a product that it is "software driven".

The entrance to the new company headquarters.

Relativity space

Ellis and Relativity's CFO Muhammad Shahzad spoke with Jefferies aerospace analyst Sheila Kahyaoglu last week to explain the company's approach to the company's customers. Ellis said the call to Jefferies was an example of the growing interest in relativity. Kahyaoglu later pointed out that the Terran 1 rocket is competitively priced at $ 12 million per launch.

The tests will continue with the first launch next year

Relativity is also developing its own line of rocket engines called the Aeon 1. The company "currently runs engine tests almost daily on multiple test benches," Ellis said.

"We are well over 400 tests at this point, doing six or seven tests in days," he added.

The relativity test fires its engines at NASA's Stennis Space Center in Mississippi, where several test chambers are leased on a long-term basis. Ellis noted that the company recently hired a Stennis site manager: Clay Walker, another former SpaceX engineer, to oversee testing of the Falcon 9 rocket's second stage.

The company's first missions will be launched from Cape Canaveral in Florida, where relativity theory has already broken new ground in Launch Complex 16. Dunn said the company now has "extremely robust test criteria and a clear test campaign ahead of it" to start.

"We're going to be doing a second stage demonstration and engine test at Stennis … with a similar test here in Los Angeles for our first stage – where we're going to put segments together and put them through their paces for stress and pressurization." "Said Dunn.

Like SpaceX, Relativity plans to ship its rockets across the country, from California to tests in Stennis to launch in Florida.

A computer rendering shows Relativity Space's Terran rocket launching from Cape Canaveral's LC-16 launchpad.

Relativity space

Much like SpaceX, the company's long-term vision is to "go to Mars," Ellis said.

"We're unfortunately still the second company where this is the core business of the company. We want to focus on building the industrial base of humankind on Earth and Mars, and 3D printing is the way to do that "added Ellis. "We really see this factory as a prototype – in a possibly crude, but very important way – of the appearance of a Mars factory. After all, we want to reduce the factory floor space, which is the amount of tools, machines, and things you would need go where you could just take an entire factory to Mars in a launcher. "

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