The capital raise will enable the company to fully develop and test its rocket, dubbed Terran 1, and begin commercial operations.
“Now we’re fully funded to launch Terran 1 to orbit,” says cofounder and CEO Tim Ellis, an alumnus of the Forbes 30 Under 30 list. Its rocket will launch from Cape Canaveral.
The Los Angeles-based startup has a lot of believers, including billionaire Mark Cuban, the company’s first investor and also a participant in the current round, which was led by Noah Knauf at Bond fund and Tribe Capital. The $140 million fundraise brings the total amount of investment in the company to $185 million.
It’s competing in a market that is crowded—and likely to thin out. 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. However, only one of those companies—the L.A.-based Rocket Lab—has launched commercial payloads to orbit. The next few years will begin to determine who the new leaders in this space race will be.
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 first and second stages of its Terran 1 design. To that end, the company has built four large 3D-printers, which it calls Stargate, at its manufacturing facility. Once engineering is complete and the factory is fully built, Ellis says, his company will be able to produce and iterate rockets very quickly.
“The nice part of 3D-printing is that once the factory is built and we’re really scaling launch rate and production rate, it is a significantly more automated process,” he says.
Relativity already has customers. The company has signed deals with Canadian communications company Telesat to deliver internet satellites to orbit, with Thai company mu Space, and with Spaceflight, which will use the rocket to launch several of its customers’ satellites.
Launches cost $10 million, in the ballpark of current satellite launches. Though its first is still over a year away, Ellis’ is already looking beyond Earth’s orbit. “Part of our long-term vision is one day 3D-printing rockets and infrastructure on Mars,” he says.