Relativity, the 3D-printed-rocket manufacturer, inks multi-year contract with Telesat

Relativity, the Los Angeles-based manufacturer of 3D-printed rockets, has signed its first public commercial contract with Telesat, the longtime vendor of satellite services for telecommunications and business information. 

The deal marks the first agreement between a major satellite operator and an entirely venture-backed company in the “New Space” industry and is a huge win for Relativity’s low-cost rocket manufacturing platform.

Relativity’s first launch of its Terran 1 rocket, the first fully 3D-printed rocket built using Relativity’s proprietary printing technology, is slated for the end of 2020.

The company already has a launch site at Cape Canaveral in Florida and a test facility at NASA’s Stennis Space Center right on the Mississippi-Louisiana border. It’s currently in the process of acquiring a launch site in California that will expand its launch capabilities for customers, according to Relativity chief executive, Tim Ellis.

Relativity’s launch services come in at around $10 million for a 1,250 kilogram payload to low Earth orbit, Ellis said. That’s about $10 million to $20 million less than it would cost to launch a similar payload on the Indian PSLV rocket or European Ariane rocket.

The company keeps costs low by relying heavily on automation and metal 3D printing technology at almost every step of the design and manufacturing process for its launch vehicles. Instead of taking 18 months to build, Relativity claims that it can make its rockets in 60 days with hundreds of components instead of the hundreds of thousands of parts that comprise a traditionally manufactured launch vehicle.

Telesat was certainly convinced by the company’s pitch.

“Early in our LEO program we decided that, in addition to working with outstanding leaders in satellite manufacturing and launch services who we know well, Telesat should also include New Space companies whose technologies and manufacturing methods offer lower costs and greater flexibility for deploying our constellation,” said Dave Wendling, Telesat’s chief technology officer. “Relativity is just such a company with their metal 3D printing, use of robotics and other advances. Telesat continues to establish a world-class supplier team to construct, deploy and operate our global LEO network and we are very pleased to welcome Relativity to the Telesat LEO program.”

With the revelation yesterday of Amazon’s plans to create a satellite network of its own, Telesat may be relying on Relativity’s services for more launches — since Blue Origin, Bezos’ own rocket company, may have its hands full launching satellites for its sister company.

“It’s comparable in magnitude to when SES first signed with SpaceX back in early Falcon 9 days,” says Ellis of his company’s first public contract. “We’ve been working with their team for a very long time vetting our capabilities and our progress.”

The company has done 136 engine tests and has received its avionics systems, which are currently being tested now.

As for the overall industry, Ellis says it’s still the earliest days for New Space companies.

“We’re still in the phase of laying fiber in the ground,” Ellis says. “As far as space infrastructure and network…it’ll follow the path of the internet… the application layers will get built on top of that.”