Spaceflight Insider

Company that will print 3D rockets approved to use Cape Canaveral launch facility

A rendering of what LC-16 could look like when Relativity Space modifies it for its rockets. Image Credit: Relativity Space

A rendering of what LC-16 could look like when Relativity Space modifies it for its rockets. Image Credit: Relativity Space

Relativity Space, an autonomous rocket factory pioneering a new, speedy process of building and launching rockets, has received approval from the U.S. Air Force to use Cape Canaveral’s historic Launch Complex 16 for the construction of its own launch facilities.

Founded in 2015 and based in Los Angeles, the company seeks to build 3D-printed rockets to deploy constellations of satellites and to eventually conduct 3D rocket printing from the surface of Mars.

“We are accelerating the design process by removing barriers between the digital and physical worlds,” the company states on its website.

In addition to the construction of 3D rockets in days rather than weeks or months, Relativity Space seeks to build its own, proprietary 3D printer, make use of robotic automation, use intelligent hardware and software, and create the first tooling-free, evolvable factory.

Its new rocket, the Terran 1, is expected to be made up of less than 1,000 parts, in contrast to standard rockets, which have as many as 100,000 parts, the company notes on its website.

On January 17, Relativity Space announced it has been granted a Statement of Capability by the 45th Space Wing of the U.S. Air Force approving construction of its own launch facility at Cape Canaveral’s LC-16, which was used by the Apollo Moon missions, NASA’s Gemini program, and launches of both Titan and Pershing missiles.

It is the first venture-backed company to be granted an agreement for use of the LC-16 launch site. The agreement, which allows Relativity Space on-site vehicle integration and payload processing, includes an option of an exclusive 20-year extension.

Use of LC-16 allows the company to forego the time and expense of constructing its own launchpad from scratch, which would take approximately four years.

Relativity Space already has an infrastructure use contract with the US government, giving it exclusive access to the NASA Stennis Space Center E4 test complex, and a NASA ACO test award.

SpaceX, United Launch Alliance, and Blue Origin already have operational launch sites at Cape Canaveral. In addition to being one of the few major launch sites still available at Cape Canaveral, LC-16 has the capability of supporting Terran 1 and payload expansions Relativity Space plans for the future.

To prepare for its planned first orbital launch in late 2020, the company has recruited leadership personnel from various spaceflight companies, who together have taken part in more than 158 Cape Canaveral launches.

“We are honored to win this significant support from the U.S. Air Force and join a select group of private space companies in conducting launches at Cape Canaveral,” said Tim Ellis, CEO of Relativity Space. “Having the rare path toward an exclusive-use agreement at LC-16 ensures our satellite customers will have access to far more schedule certainty, and enables us to execute more frequent launches.”

“With LC-16’s historic and operational legacy of rocket launches and the experienced team we’ve built, we look forward to working with The 45th Space Wing of the U.S. Air Force to develop a modern launch facility that supports Terran 1 launch operations,” said Chris Newton, Principal Launch Engineer at Relativity Space.

“We were impressed with Relativity’s seasoned team and its innovative approach to space technology and we look forward to working with them as they continue the process to launch the Terran 1 vehicle from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station,” said Thomas Eye, Director of Plans and Programs for the 45th Space Wing of the U.S. Air Force.

The company’s engine, Aeon 1, uses oxygen and methane, the easiest fuel for future astronauts to construct on the surface of Mars, as propellants.

Like other commercial spaceflight companies, Relativity Space plans on launching both commercial and government  payloads. Its new agreement with the US government is the latest in a series of public-private spaceflight partnerships.

In addition to having far fewer parts than standard rockets, Terran 1 will make use of intelligent robotics and autonomous 3D manufacturing technology. Capable of constructing rockets in less than 60 days, Relativity Space uses a simple supply chain and can deploy and resupply satellites in far less time than any other company.

“We are the second company committed to making humanity multi-planetary — and we hope to inspire hundreds more,” the company said in the mission section of its website.



Laurel Kornfeld is an amateur astronomer and freelance writer from Highland Park, NJ, who enjoys writing about astronomy and planetary science. She studied journalism at Douglass College, Rutgers University, and earned a Graduate Certificate of Science from Swinburne University’s Astronomy Online program. Her writings have been published online in The Atlantic, Astronomy magazine’s guest blog section, the UK Space Conference, the 2009 IAU General Assembly newspaper, The Space Reporter, and newsletters of various astronomy clubs. She is a member of the Cranford, NJ-based Amateur Astronomers, Inc. Especially interested in the outer solar system, Laurel gave a brief presentation at the 2008 Great Planet Debate held at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab in Laurel, MD.

Reader Comments

Good story, and exciting to see a new entrant in the game. LC-16 was not used for either Gemini-Titan or Apollo- Saturn. Saturn 1 and 1B were launched from LC-34 or LC-37. Apollo launched from LC-34 and LC-39. Gemini Titan used LC-19 only.

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