Relativity Space is on track to launch its first rocket at the end of the year. But that hasn’t stopped the company from looking ahead to the future. On Tuesday, the Los Angeles-based rocket startup announced that it’s raised $650 million in a series E venture round. That capital is geared towards accelerating development of the company’s Terran R rocket, which will be completely 3D-printed and capable of launching bigger payloads than Elon Musk’s Falcon 9 rocket.
“I feel like in many ways, it’s a grand reveal,” cofounder and CEO Tim Ellis says of its Terran R plans. “Because we’re really just doing what we planned when we started the company: build a fully reusable rocket that’s in a much larger payload class.”
Relativity was founded in 2015 by Ellis and Jordan Noone, veterans of Blue Origin and SpaceX, respectively. (The pair are also alums of the Forbes 2019 Under 30 list). Both had been working on processes to 3D-print rocket parts, and had a mutual vision of building rockets that were completely 3D-printed. The pair raised their first seed round for the company by cold emailing Mark Cuban to explain their vision. Cuban invested then and has invested in every round since.
So far, the company has raised around $1.3 billion in venture backing, and the current round has an estimated valuation of $4.2 billion. The series E was led by Fidelity Management and Research, with other investors including BlackRock, Tiger Global, Tribe Capital, actor Jared Leto and others.
The first iteration of the company’s rocket, Terran 1, is geared towards smaller payloads and competing with rideshare missions on larger rockets as well as small launch vehicles like Rocket Lab’s Electron. The first test flight of that rocket is set for the end of this year, with commercial launches to follow shortly afterward. Relativity has seen a lot of demand for their rocket launches. “Suffice to say, we’re basically not taking any more preorders for Terran 1,” Ellis says. “We have several years already covered.”
The Terran R is even more ambitious, says Ellis. It’s a two-stage rocket that stands at 216 feet tall. Made from custom aluminum alloys made for 3D-printing, its aerodynamic structures were algorithmically generated, meaning that these rockets could basically only be manufactured via 3D-printing, Ellis says. It’s also designed to be fully reusable, with the first stage landing seperately from the second stage and payload faring, which will land together as one unit. The company intends to iteratively test the reusability of its stages during commercial launch, following SpaceX’s example.
The rockets will be manufactured on the same giant 3D-printers Relativity is using in its Long Beach, California facility to manufacture the Terran 1. Once fully developed, Ellis says that the Terran R will be able to deliver larger payloads to orbit than the SpaceX Falcon 9, and could potentially be re-used hundreds of times. The rocket already has at least one believer – Ellis says Relativity has already signed a multi-launch deal with a company it can’t yet disclose.
For Ellis, the newest venture round and the number of preorders that Relativity has received is proof that there’s still a big market out there for space launches, even as Elon Musk’s SpaceX launches more rockets every year. “We’ve been hearing from customers for a long time that there needs to be another quickly moving disruptive company in the market,” he says. “And so there needs to be another one.”