Relativity Space announced on Wednesday morning plans to move into a new factory—its third new facility in three years—as the startup company continues to scale up its ambitious launch plans. The new factory, formerly a 93-acre Boeing facility that manufactured the C-17 aircraft in Long Beach, California, comes with 1 million square feet of work space.
“It can fit the USC Coliseum inside of it,” Relativity CEO Tim Ellis said in an interview, referring to the iconic stadium that hosted the opening ceremonies of the 1984 Summer Olympics. “To our knowledge, it’s the second-largest factory in private space, with SpaceX being number one.”
Ellis said the new 3D printing factory is needed to support the production of the proposed Terran R rocket, a fully reusable booster intended to compete with SpaceX’s highly successful Falcon 9 rocket. The company is also rapidly growing, he said, with a total of 400 employees. It plans to add 200 more people by the end of 2021 and then probably double the total by the end of next year. The new factory will accommodate about 2,000 employees.
Aerospace engineers Ellis and Jordan Noone founded Relativity Space 5 and a half years ago, starting in a WeWork office in Seattle for about a month. They then lived and worked for six months out of a closet-sized room in Mountain View, California, before moving to a 5,000-square-foot office in Los Angeles. They acquired additional space nearby before moving into a new facility a little more than a year ago in Long Beach.
The company’s current office has 120,000 square feet, but it is already filled with components of the Terran 1 rocket and with large “Stargate” printers to additively manufacture rockets. This Terran 1 rocket booster, capable of lifting a little more than 1 metric ton to low Earth orbit, should debut later this year or early in 2022. Ellis said the much larger, new factory will enable Relativity to ramp up production of the Terran R vehicle, which may launch for the first time in 2024.
If the factory seems outsized for a company that has yet to even attempt to launch a rocket, it nonetheless matches Relativity’s incredibly ambitious plans. The startup seeks to disrupt through 3D printing the largely hands-on process currently employed to build rockets. Then, Relativity wants to take on SpaceX’s dominant position in medium-lift launch, with the Terran R. Eventually, the company seeks to build a 3D printing factory on Mars. And Relativity also has plans to move into 3D printing other large products in this new factory, although Ellis has not disclosed those plans.
Although this is aspirational for an unproven company, Relativity has made key hires within the aerospace industry and raised more than $1.3 billion. It now will spend tens of millions of dollars to outfit a huge factory to house its great ambitions.
“I do feel quite humble about what we actually have to go prove and do,” Ellis said. “But what we’re doing does need to happen. In this industry we’re still building products one at a time by hand, with fixed tooling, and a complicated supply chain. We’ve seen so many other industries adopt automation and software and be disrupted in this way. But aerospace is a trillion dollar industry that has not actually seen that level of disruption.”
Listing image by Relativity Space