A new startup called Relativity Space founded by two aerospace engineers wants to use massive 3D printers to produce rockets without humans required on the factory floor, with the ultimate aim of driving the price of rocket launches down from their current rate of around $100 million to just about $10 million per launch. Bloomberg reports that Relativity’s founders think using 3D printing in this way in rocket production is “inevitable” – they just want to be the ones to get it here first.
The company’s innovation isn’t coming up with the idea of 3D printing rocket parts and even whole engines, the process is slow and costly vs. traditional welding. But Relativity went to the root of the problem by building its own 3D printers from scratch, using giant, robotic arms the tare nearly 20 feet tall that can produce a large rocket-sized fuel tank in just a few days, and an engine in only 1.5 weeks. Building a whole rocket should only take less than a month if the startup’s process works as planned, compared to multiple months for Curren human-driven processes.
What makes Relativity capable of doing this? Well, the founder’s histories help. Co-founders Tim Ellis and Jordan Noone worked at Blue Origin and SpaceX respectively, and realized that the vast majority of their production costs was still labor, despite the efforts by both companies to decrease the price of launches considerably vs. what companies like the United Launch Alliance were charging.
The startup is still very young and has only 14 full-time employees on board, but it’s hoping to print a 90 foot rocket with 2,000 pounds of carrying capacity by around the mille of the 2020s, with a first flight of a prototype hopefully going in 2021.