/ At the heart of the Relativity factory is the "Stargate" 3D printer, which the company says is the largest metal 3D printer in the world.Relativity Space Share this story
Relativity is one of the in the rocket industry. It seeks to manufacture the entirety of its rockets using 3D printing techniques, hoping to one day print a rocket on the surface of Mars to launch from there. But are either of these goals achievable?
Some new moves by the company suggest they just might be. On Monday morning, Relativity will announce the hiring of Tim Buzza as an adviser to shepherd the company‘s launch vehicle execution. These duties will include finalizing the selection of a US-based launch site (a decision will come before the end of this year) and overseeing development of ground launch systems at that site. / Tim BuzzaRelativity Space
Buzza is a well-known figure in the aerospace industry. He was employee number five at SpaceX, having hired on in 2002, and over a 12-year career he ended up as the company‘s vice president of launch operations. In an oral history interview in 2013 with NASA, Buzza explained his early duties at SpaceX.
“I got to work at SpaceX from the beginning working on Falcon 1, and I initially was hired in to run the testing,” . “Because the test site in Texas became so similar to what a launch site should be like, I then was given the responsibility for the initial launch site at Vandenberg Air Force Base. Then we moved to Kwajalein and built a launch site there. Completed our Falcon 1 development in Kwajalein and then moved on to Cape Canaveral for Falcon 9.”
The significance of this experience, clearly, is that Buzza has seen what it takes to get from the development stage of a rocket into space. Buzza has experiences with avionics, propulsion, and launch software. “The guy literally knows everything there is to know about rockets,” said Tim Ellis, the cofounder and chief executive of Relativity, in an interview with Ars.
Since leaving SpaceX in 2014, Buzza has spent the last four years at Virgin Galactic and then Virgin Orbit, helping that company bring its LauncherOne rocket to readiness. If all goes well, that vehicle should launch later this year.
Relativity also says that it has made significant progress toward its goal of printing an entire rocket, from the engines up to the payload fairing, with its “Stargate” 3D printer. Ellis said the company recently printed its first materials that passed the most stringent specification for fusion-welded materials in the aerospace industry, a standard known as AWS D17.1 Class A.
The significance of this, Ellis said, is that it demonstrates that the 3D printing process it is using for its engines and rockets meets the highest quality level of the aerospace industry. “So many people question or ask us if 3D printed materials are strong enough,” he said. “This gives our customers the highest confidence that it is.”
According to Ellis, Relativity remains on track to complete development of its Terran rocket by 2020. It has a planned capacity to deliver 1,250kg to low-Earth orbit and a per-launch cost of $10 million. Commercial launches may begin in 2021.
But Relativity‘s ambitions don‘t stop there, as it has set a long-term goal of 3D printing a rocket on the surface of Mars and launching from there back to Earth. “Other than SpaceX, we’re the only company where Mars is a core part of our mission,” Ellis said. “Other companies seem focused on launching small satellites. They wear that mission with pride. We do, too, but we’re about more than that.”