The future of rocket manufacturing has touched down in Mississippi.
At NASA’s John C. Stennis Space Center, nestled in Hancock County, Miss., right on the border of Louisiana, the Los Angeles-based 3D-printed spacecraft manufacturer, Relativity Space, is planning a massive $59 million expansion to make a permanent manufacturing hub in this bucolic corner of the southeast.
“This agreement demonstrates again NASA’s commitment to work with our industry partners to expand commercial access to low Earth orbit,” said Dr. Rick Gilbrech, director, Stennis Space Center. “This helps NASA maintain focus on the ambitious Artemis program that will land the first female and the next male on the south pole of the Moon by 2024.”
Relativity already has four of its proprietary 3D printers running in its Los Angeles headquarters and plans to build out 12 larger units in its new Mississippi digs. The company ultimately expects to get 24 of its printers up and running.
Unlike other rocket manufacturers, Relativity uses 3D printers for almost all of the components it needs to assemble a spacecraft. The company says its technology significantly reduces the time it takes to manufacture a vehicle for space travel and the cost associated with that manufacturing.
At Stennis, the company has 220,000 square feet at its disposal to install second-generation printers, larger than the initial designs it has in its LA base of operations.
Initially, the company will be focused on the construction of its own Terran1 rocket design, and has signed up three customers, including Spaceflight Industries, Telesat and Mu Space for launches.
“We now have this benefit of being colocated with a testing facility,” says Tobias Duschl, the vice president of operations at Relativity, and a former executive at BMW and Tesla. “We can easily move components back and forth from production to testing. It’s going to be a huge benefit for our customers.”
Through a package with the state, Relativity is getting tax incentives for its investments in capital and is looking to hire an additional 200 employees for the Stennis manufacturing facility.
The agreement with NASA includes a nine-year lease on the 220,000 square foot building at Stennis, with an option to extend the lease for an additional 10 years, according to the company.
“The Mississippi Gulf Coast has a strong aerospace presence, and Relativity’s expansion at Stennis further positions our state as a leader in this prominent sector,” Governor Phil Bryant said. “The important work that will be done for Relativity by our skilled workforce will play a crucial role in developing new methods to connect to outer space and other planets.”
Relativity’s co-founder and chief executive, Tim Ellis, envisions the Stennis facility as more than just a manufacturing hub for spacecraft.
“We are investing not just a new rocket, but an entirely new way of production, with our large, mass-scale, 3D-printing factory,” Ellis says. “The exact same factory we built for the rockets is already applicable to other things. It’s highly automated (due to 3D printing), which reduces part counts, and simplifies the supply chain… and there’s no fixed tooling. The 3D printers can make similar structures for other industries.”
To date, Relativity has disclosed $45 million in financing according to Crunchbase, from investors including the billionaire Mark Cuban, Social Capital, Playground Global and Y Combinator.