June 20, 2021

Relativity announces plans for fully reusable Terran R rocket


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Relativity Space announced plans Tuesday for a fully reusable two-stage rocket named the Terran R, a 3D-printed vehicle designed to haul more than 20 metric tons of cargo to low Earth orbit from a launch pad at Cape Canaveral.

The company, based in Long Beach, California, revealed plans for the new rocket at the same time it announced the closure of a $650 million Series E funding round led by Fidelity. Other investors in the funding round included venture capital and equity firms, billionaire Mark Cuban, and actor Jared Leto.

The new funding round comes after Relativity announced a $500 million fundraising last November. The money will allow the company to move forward with development of the Terran R, Relativity said in a statement.

Resembling a smaller version of SpaceX’s giant Starship rocket, the Terran R will stand 216 feet (66 meters) tall and measure 16 feet (5 meters) in diameter. It should be ready for launch in 2024, Relativity said.

The next-generation Terran R rocket will eventually offer commercial and government customers a “point-to-point space freighter capable of missions between the Earth, moon and Mars,” Relativity said.

The Terran R follows the development of Relativity’s Terran 1 rocket, an expendable launcher sized to place small satellites into orbit. Relativity says the Terran 1 rocket is scheduled for launch at the end of this year from Launch Complex 16 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station.

The Terran 1 will be capable of launching a payload of approximately 2,750 pounds (1,250 kilograms) into a low-altitude orbit.

Like the Terran 1, the Terran R will be built using innovative 3D printers at Relativity’s factory. The company says it aims to produce an entire Terran 1 or Terran R rocket in 60 days.

“Together with our first rocket Terran 1, our second product, Terran R, will continue to take advantage of Relativity’s disruptive approach to 3D printing — reduced part count, improved speed of innovation, flexibility, and reliability — to bring to market the next generation of launch vehicles,” said Tim Ellis, Relativity’s co-founder and CEO.

“Relativity was founded with the mission to 3D print entire rockets and build humanity’s industrial base on Mars,” said Ellis, who worked at Blue Origin, Jeff Bezos’s space company, before co-founding Relativity in 2015.

Artist’s illustration of Relativity’s Terran R rocket. Credit: Relativity Space

“We were inspired to make this vision a reality, and believe there needs to be dozens to hundreds of companies working to build humanity’s multiplanetary future on Mars,” Ellis said in a statement. “Scalable, autonomous 3D printing is inevitably required to thrive on Mars, and Terran R is the second product step in a long-term journey Relativity is planning ahead.”

The Terran R’s first stage, second stage, engines, and payload fairing will be reusable. Relativity did not say whether it plans to recover the first stage using propulsive landings, like SpaceX’s Falcon 9 and Starship rockets, or from the ocean.

The second stage and payload fairing, built as a single unit, will fly into orbit, release its payload and complete its mission, then re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere for landing.

Flying in reusable mode, the Terran R rocket will be capable of delivering a payload of 20 metric tons, or 44,000 pounds, to low Earth orbit, according to Relativity. The payload capacity could increase if Relativity flew the Terran R as an expendable rocket.

The Terran R first stage will be powered by seven reusable 3D-printed Aeon R engines capable of 302,000 pounds of thrust each, combining to generate 2.1 million pounds of thrust at full throttle. The Terran R second stage will have one Aeon Vac engine.

Like the Terran 1, the Terran R will blast off from Launch Complex 16 at Cape Canaveral.

“With satellite technology advancements, demand for bandwidth soaring and satellite constellations representing the largest part of the growing market, Terran R was developed to accommodate the growing demand for large constellation launch services, and the company’s growing pipeline of commercial interest,” Relativity said, adding that it recently signed its first “anchor customer” launch contract for the Terran R rocket.

Artist’s illustration of Relativity’s Terran 1 and Terran R rockets. Credit: Relativity Space

The Aeon R engine is an upgraded version of the Aeon 1 engine that will fly on the Terran 1 rocket. Seven Aeon 1 engines will power the 105-foot-tall (32-meter) Terran 1 launcher’s first stage, producing about 140,000 pounds of thrust, while a single vacuum-optimized Aeon 1 engine will power the second stage.

The Aeon engine family consumes methane and liquid oxygen propellants.

The company said Tuesday it has completed printing of more than 85% of the first Terran 1 orbital rocket, including its first and second stage.

Relativity, now with more than 400 employees, says it has nine launch contracts for the Terran 1 rocket, including deals with NASA, the U.S. military, the smallsat rideshare broker TriSept, Iridium, and Telesat.

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Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.


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