Relativity space Has obtained its first public government contract, and with a major defense contractor thereon. The launch startup’s 3D-printed rockets are a great match for particularly complex missions. Lockheed is working for NASA’s tipping point program.
The mission is testing a dozen different cryogenic fluid management systems including liquid hydrogen, which is actually a very difficult material to work with. The tests will be on a single craft in the classroom, which means that it will be particularly complex to design and adjust.
The payload itself and its cryogenic system will be designed and built by Lockheed and his colleagues at NASA. Of course, but the company will need to work closely with its launch provider during development and especially towards the actual launch.
Relativity founder and CEO Tim Ellis pointed out that the company’s 3D printing approach from top to bottom of the entire rocket is particularly favorable to it.
“We are building a custom payload fairing that has the specific payload loading interfaces they need, custom fittings and adapters,” he said. “It still needs to be smooth – like a normal person it will look like a normal rocket,” he said.
Every fairing (the exterior of a launch vehicle covering the payload) is necessarily custom, but it is much more. Manufacturing complexity will increase massively, before starting and testing a dozen cryogenic operations, as long as other modifications are required, on other days.
“If you look at the manufacturing equipment being used today, they are not very different from the last 60 years,” Ellis explained. “This tooling is fixed, huge machines that look impressive, but only make a shape or an object that is designed by hand. And it will take 12-24 months to build.”
Not so with relativity.
“With our 3D printed approach we can print the entire fair within 30 days,” Ellis said. “It is also software defined, so we can only change the file to change the dimensions and size.” We have some custom features for this particular object that we are able to customize more quickly and more. Even though the mission is three years old, there will always be last minute changes as we get closer to launch and we can adjust it. Otherwise you have to lock in the design now. “
Ellis was excited about the opportunity to go on a mission publicly with one such major contractor. These giant companies make up billions of dollars of government territory and participate in many launches, so they need to be in good books, or at least in their Rolodex. Such a mission, complex but comparatively low bets (compared to a crew launch or billion-dollar satellite) is a great chance for the company to show its capabilities. (Having already canceled several of its launches, there is clearly no interest in 3D printed launch vehicles, but more is always better.)
The company is going into space before this, however, if all continues to go according to plan. The first orbital test is scheduled for the end of flight 2021. “We’ve actually been printing the launch hardware for the past few weeks right now,” Ellison noted.
The NASA Tipping Point Program, which is funding Lockheed with an $ 89.7 million contract for this experiment, as its name suggests, helps the technologies indicate commercial edge to commercial viability. It is like the agency’s venture fund, with a bounty of crores annually for companies pursuing such things as lunar hoppers and robotic arms.