Inside the Relativity Space monster factory, which 3D prints reusable rockets

External view of the factory “Wormhole”.

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LONG BEACH, California. Only a few days left before the New Year, and the Relativity Space plant was not at all quiet, the noise of activity, the hum of massive 3D printers and the clanging of building structures.

Now, about eight years after its founding, Relativity continues to grow by exploring a new way to manufacture rockets, mostly from 3D printed structures and parts. Relativity believes its approach will allow orbital-class rockets to be built much faster than traditional methods, requiring thousands fewer parts, and allowing for software modifications that would allow rockets to be built from raw materials in as little as 60 days.

The company has raised more than $1.3 billion in capital to date and continues to expand its footprint, including adding more than 150 acres to NASA’s Mississippi Rocket Engine Test Facility. Last year, Relativity made CNBC’s Disruptor 50 list.

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The company’s first rocket, known as the Terran 1, is currently in the final stages of preparation for its first launch from Cape Canaveral in Florida. This rocket was built at Portal, a 120,000-square-foot factory built by the company in Long Beach.

Inside the Wormhole Factory in Long Beach, California.

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But earlier this month, CNBC took a peek inside the Wormhole. Boeing The previously built C-17 aircraft is where Relativity is now stocking machines and building its larger reusable line of Terran R missiles.

“I actually tried to close this project several times,” Relativity CEO and co-founder Tim Ellis told CNBC, pointing to one of the company’s newest additive manufacturing machines, codenamed “Reaper,” a reference to the StarCraft games that marks the fourth by account. generation of the company’s Stargate printers.

A close-up of one of the company’s Reaper printers at work.

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Unlike previous generations of the Relativity Stargate, which printed vertically, the fourth generation, building the basic structures of the Terran R, prints horizontally. Ellis stressed that this change allows her printers to run up to seven times faster than third generation printers and has been tested at speeds up to 15 times faster.

Scale of one of the Stargate “Reaper” printers.

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“[Printing horizontally] seems very counter-intuitive, but ultimately it leads to certain changes in the physics of the printhead, which then becomes much faster,” said Ellis.

A pair of Reaper 3D printers.

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The company now uses about a third of the spacious former Boeing plant, where Ellis says Relativity has room for about a dozen printers that can produce Terran R rockets “several times a year.”

In 2023, Relativity will focus on getting Terran 1 into orbit to prove that its approach works, as well as to demonstrate how “quickly we can develop additive technologies,” Ellis said.

“Given the overall economy, we are obviously still very stingy and making sure we deliver results,” he added.

The company’s Terran 1 rocket sits on launch pad LC-16 in Cape Canaveral, Florida before its first launch attempt.

Trevor Muhlmann / Space Relativity

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