March 8, 2021

Relativity Space raises $ 500M to speed up plan to build and launch 3D-printed rockets

Relativity Space CEO Tim Ellis stands alongside a 3D-printed rocket component. (Relativity Space Photo)

Relativity Space says it’s brought in another $ 500 million in investment to speed up its effort to build entire orbital-class rockets using 3D printing.

The startup – which was founded in Seattle less than five years ago and is now headquartered in Long Beach, Calif. – has attracted more than $ 685 million from investors so far, and is said to have a total valuation in excess of $ 2 billion.

That rise to unicorn status has sparked comparisons to another California-based space venture, SpaceX, even though Relativity has yet to launch a rocket.

In a news release, Relativity Space CEO Tim Ellis said his company is on track to execute the first launch of its Terran 1 rocket from Florida next year, thanks to existing capital on its balance sheet.

“With this new Series D funding, we will now dramatically accelerate the development of our long-term plans and look beyond first launch,” said Ellis, who co-founded Relativity Space after working for Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space venture in Kent, Wash.

The Series D round was led by Tiger Global Management – with several new investors participating in the round, including Fidelity Management & Research Co., Baillie Gifford, ICONIQ Capital, General Catalyst, XN, Senator Investment Group and Elad Gil.

Zillow co-founder Spencer Rascoff added to his existing investment in Relativity. Other returning investors include BOND, Tribe Capital, K5 Global, 3L, Playground Global, Mark Cuban and Allen & Co.

Relativity’s key innovation is to use giant, custom-designed 3D printers for the manufacture of large-scale rocket components.

Most rocket companies – including Blue Origin and SpaceX more Rocket Lab and Virgin Orbit – use 3D printing for aspects of their manufacturing process, but Relativity has gone all in on additive manufacturing.

The goal is to go from raw materials to a launch-ready rocket in less than 60 days, and send up to 2,755 pounds (1,250 kilograms) of payload into low Earth orbit for a price as low as $ 12 million.

“The compounding rate of improvement and iteration possible through our disruptive approach will be unlike anything seen before,” Ellis said. “If we are going to live on Mars, it is inevitable that this factory of the future must exist to build humanity’s industrial base once there.”

Relativity Space says it now employs more than 230 people, including some high-profile hires from SpaceX.

The fresh investment caps a year in which Relativity made a deal with the US Air Force for a launch facility at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, with the Iridium satellite telecommunications company among its anchor customers. The company is also readying a launch complex at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, and proceeding with engine tests at NASA’s Stennis Space Center.

Last year, Seattle-based Spaceflight Inc. signed a launch services agreement with Relativity to put rideshare payloads on the Terran 1 rocket. And last month, Relativity Space announced that it’ll team up with Lockheed Martin on a NASA-funded project aimed at demonstrating in-orbit rocket refueling.