Technology

23. Relativity Space

Persephone Kavallines

Founders: Tim Ellis (CEO), Jordan Noone
Launched: 2015
Headquarters: Long Beach, California
Funding:
$685 million
Valuation: $2.3 billion
Key technologies:
Artificial intelligence, deep learning, machine learning, robotics
Industry:
Aerospace, Transportation
Previous appearances on Disruptor 50 List: 0

Relativity Space uses enormous 3D printers and an in-house metal-making process to build 95% of the parts that go into its next-generation rockets. The Long Beach, California-based company's focus on 3D-printing means it doesn't have to change or add new equipment to its production line.

Co-founder and CEO Tim Ellis emphasizes that 3D-printing not only drastically cuts down on the complexity of its rockets, but also makes them faster to build and modify. Eventually, Relativity says its simpler process will be able to turn raw materials into a rocket on the launchpad in under 60 days.

Ellis previously worked as a propulsion engineer at Blue Origin, the space company founded by Jeff Bezos, and was credited with bringing the process of 3D-printing metal rocket parts to its operations. Ellis left Blue Origin in 2015 to found Relativity with Jordan Noone, a college classmate and former SpaceX propulsion engineer.

Ellis has a vision of 3D-printed reusable rockets as "the inevitable technology we need to build humanity's industrial base on Mars" – a goal similar to Elon Musk's dream to "make humanity a multiplanetary species" by establishing settlements on the red planet. Ellis believes Relativity and SpaceX can be two companies leading a new era of exploration.

Relativity's first rocket, Terran 1, is expected to launch for the first time later this year. Terran 1 is priced at $12 million per launch and is designed to carry about 1,250 kilograms to low Earth orbit. That puts Terran 1 in the "medium lift" section of the U.S. launch market, between Rocket Lab's Electron and SpaceX's Falcon 9 in both price and capability.

Relativity is also working on a second, larger rocket called Terran R – aiming to compete with SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket in both launch capability and reusability. Terran R is the first of several new initiatives that Ellis expects Relativity to unveil in the year ahead, with the company having raised more than $680 million since its founding in 2015.

Relativity, valued at $2.3 billion, ranks as one of the most valuable private space companies in the world. Its investors include Tiger Global Management, Fidelity, Baillie Gifford, Jared Leto and Mark Cuban.

Reporting contributed by Michael Sheetz

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