Relativity Space, a budding small satellite launch system company, has raised $140 million in new funding to take the company into commercial operations amidst rising competition over the industry.
With the rise of companies developing separate technologies geared towards providing small satellite launch services for both the government and commercial space constellations, Relativity Space only stands as one of the newer companies trying to lift their companies off the ground and unto space.
Indeed, the reliability, efficiency, and popularity of small satellites have put more focus on a rapidly growing industry of launch services. However, only a small number of these companies will exclusively be catered by investors to help them grow.
Relativity Space, which uses 3-D printing for launch vehicle manufacturing, fortunately, has leveraged itself worthy of funding and received $140 million.
The company announced October 1 saying that the new funding is a sign of investor confidence despite intense competition and setbacks suffered by other vehicle developers.
The company said the Series C round was led by two new investors, Bond and Tribe Capital.
“Fundraising is always a process,” Ellis said, noting the participation of new investors including Lee Fixel, former Disney president Michael Ovitz, entertainer Jared Leto, Spencer Rascoff, and Republic Labs, along with participation from current investors Playground Global, Y Combinator, Social Capital, and Mark Cuban. It speaks to the quality of Relativity’s plans, he said, that such diverse group investors are backing the ambitious firm. “These investors are very sophisticated when it comes to the financial business case,” Ellis said in an interview.
Notably, there are over 100 startups now in the race to build small rockets, which are made for smaller satellites that have become increasingly popular as new hardware allows companies to build satellites at a fraction of the size and cost of traditional car-sized satellites.
Relativity’s Ellis believes that its competitive advantage lies in its manufacturing process. The company is 3D-printing its rockets, from the engine to the structure, and has recently seen success in building the first and second stages of its spacecraft called Terran 1.
The company boasts that Terran 1 was built by four large 3D-printers, which it calls Stargate, at its manufacturing facility. Once engineering is complete, and the factory is fully developed, Ellis says, his company will be able to produce and iterate rockets very quickly.
Altogether, the Los Angeles-based company has raised an estimate of $185 million. The new funding, Relativity executives said, will be sufficient to complete development of its Terran 1 rocket and begin commercial operations in 2021.
Specifically, that is where the new round of funding will support the expansion of its headquarters and establishment of a factory for rocket production at the Stennis Space Center in Mississippi, where it currently tests its engines.
“That round will carry us past first flight of Terran 1,” said Jordan Noone, co-founder, and chief technology officer of Relativity, in an interview. “This round is all the capital required to get to first flight, build out more of the Mississippi test site, Launch Complex 16 in Florida and expand our L.A. headquarters and manufacturing.”
Notably, Relativity Space initially said that it would first launch a 3D-printed spacecraft in late 2020 but now opts for a February 2021 date instead.
“That original prediction for when the first flight would be was made about four years ago, so moving it two months to the right here is not bad,” Noone said. Part of the reason for the slip is a decision to develop a more substantial payload fairing with twice the volume of the original one, based on feedback from prospective customers.
The two new investors, Bond and Tribe Capital, will also provide expertise to help Relativity, now at 110 employees, grow. “Part of the reason why we liked Bond is that they’ve been amazing at growing and scaling companies,” Noone said. “We are approaching a size of company that, in some respects, is not considered a startup anymore, so having resources that have helped build and scale companies before is something that we find highly advantageous.”
An official with Bond said that they were particularly interested in Relativity’s Stargate, which will be able to expedite spacecraft manufacturing without the need for a large workforce.
“We believe the Stargate factory is a template for the future of aerospace manufacturing and provides Relativity’s commercial customers, and eventually humanity, a faster, more reliable and lower-cost way to shuttle important resources from earth to outer space,” Noah Knauf, co-founder and general partner at Bond, said in a statement.
“Accelerating speed in the design, manufacture, and delivery of rockets will become the Moore’s Law of space travel and exploration,” said Arjun Sethi, co-founder and general partner of Tribe Capital, in the same statement. “Just as doubling microprocessor speeds enabled the personal computing revolution, Relativity will push forward an entire ecosystem of hardware and software systems to take humanity beyond Earth’s orbit.”
Now, Relativity Space says that it has plans to launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, and it will announce a launch site for polar missions by the end of the year.
The only question that needs answering is whether Relativity can ultimately make 3D printed technology work on a large scale.