Relativity Space will send second-generation OneWeb broadband satellites into orbit starting in 2025 using its fully reusable 3D printed Terran R rocket under a new multiple launch agreement. It is the fifth Terran R customer and the only one to be publicly named, bringing the total cost of all binding agreements to launch the rocket to over $1.2 billion.
This is a high degree of customer confidence in Relativity, which has not even launched its first rocket into orbit, a small, completely disposable Terran 1.
“Signing these big contracts ahead of launch and even before the launch of Terran 1, I think really speaks to the confidence of the people on the team and in our approach,” Relativity founder and CEO Tim Ellis told TechCrunch.
Although Relativity has declined to disclose the financial terms of this particular deal, the company has confirmed that the deal is for double-digit launches. Considering that Relativity will be deploying the OneWeb Gen 2 satellite network under the primary deployment contract – meaning this is what will launch the Gen 2 network for the first time – they will likely be up and running quickly.
“We hear from customers all the time that there needs to be a second, fast-paced, breakthrough start-up company that is low priced, reliable, and able to quickly scale production and actually serve what is now an even more limited supply market. Ellis said.
To meet the 2025 deadline with OneWeb, Ellis said Relativity will likely conduct the first orbital tests of the Terran R around late 2024 or early 2025. This means that these OneWeb launches will be among the first commercial launches for Terran R customers.
OneWeb has had to struggle to find alternative launch patterns after it said it would no longer use Russian Soyuz missiles, a direct result of a series of sanctions imposed by much of the Western world following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February. The company quickly signed launch contracts with competitor SpaceX and New Space India. But talks between OneWeb and Relativity preceded the war, Ellis said.
“We talked to them long before the Russian-Ukrainian conflict broke out. It’s been in the works for quite some time.”
Works at Stargate
The Terran R is the company’s larger rocket designed to serve the medium to heavy lift markets, with a payload capacity of 20,000 kg. That’s slightly less than SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket, which has a payload capacity of 22,800kg, and more than Rocket Lab’s next-generation Neutron rocket, which has a maximum payload capacity of 15,000kg.
Like its little sister Terran 1, the Terran R is fully 3D printed. However, unlike the Terran 1, it is designed to be reusable. Both rockets will eventually use a fully 3D printed Relativity Aeon-R engine with 250,000 pounds of thrust. Ellis said the Terran R first stage will have more Aeon-R engines than previously announced, though he didn’t give a specific number.
Both rockets are made using the company’s most powerful weapon: Stargate, a line of 3D printers. The company has just released the fourth generation of the Stargate, which Ellis says can type 10 times faster than the previous generation. But how fast is it? At the current rate they are showing, the Stargate can print a Terran 1 fuselage in just five days.
“This is really powerful technology that allows us to move as fast as we can,” he said.
They also have the ability to print an even larger rocket than the Terran R, even potentially comparable to SpaceX’s Starship. “With 3D printing technology, we can definitely adapt and I think if things change, we can certainly build something bigger.”
But, he added, he doesn’t mind becoming a Starship customer either. “Our long-term mission remains that we want to help build an industrial base on Mars and help make humanity multi-planetary.”
Credit: techcrunch.com /