Relativity Space, a 3D-printed rocket startup that’s planning its first orbital test launch this year, said Tuesday that it is planning to send a Mars lander and rover vehicle made by Impulse Space to the red planet as early as 2024. With the announcement, both companies aim to drastically push forward the timeline for a fully private rocket launch to Mars.
Impulse, a new startup founded by SpaceX veteran and founding employee Tom Mueller, will be providing the Mars Cruise Vehicle, Entry Capsule and Lander. Relativity will deliver the payload using its reusable Terran R, a medium- to heavy-lift launch vehicle. Its sister rocket, Terran 1, will likely make its first orbital launch this year. Despite having yet to fly a rocket, the company told TechCrunch in June that it has already closed more than $1.2 billion in firm launch contracts for Terran R.
Mueller announced his resignation from SpaceX in November 2020, where he led the development of multiple rocket engines, including the Merlin engine that still powers Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets. He founded Impulse in September 2021. The company announced the close of a $20 million seed round led by Peter Thiel’s Founders Fund this past March.
The company said it would seek to provide “economical last-mile space payload delivery services,” such as in-orbit servicing, space station orbit keeping or in-space transportation. This is the first time Impulse has announced plans to go to Mars.
The exclusive agreement between the two companies is through 2029. As Impulse details on its website, after Terran R launches the payload on the correct orbit to Mars, the Cruise Vehicle would inject the Entry Capsule into the Martian atmosphere. From there, the Lander would use in-house Impulse engines to land on the planet’s surface.
Relativity founder Tim Ellis has always been explicit about his long-term vision of going to Mars. “Our long-term mission remains that we want to help build an industrial base on Mars and help make humanity multiplanetary,” he told TechCrunch in June. Even so, while this news is not exactly surprising, the planned launch schedule is still very ambitious.
Nor has Ellis been coy about the role that SpaceX has played in his own Martian ambitions.
“When we founded Relativity, the inspiration was watching SpaceX land rockets and dock with the space station. They were 13 years old and they were, despite all of that pretty inspiring success, the only company that wanted to make humanity multiplanetary and go to Mars,” he said in an interview with TechCrunch from June 2021. “No one else had actually even tried to go to Mars or said that was their core mission, and that’s still true today, actually, even five years later, it’s still just us and SpaceX.”