From a young age, Will Bruey, the co-founder and chief executive of Varda Space Industries, was fascinated with space and running his own business.
So when the former SpaceX engineer was tapped by Delian Asparouhov and Trae Stephens of Founders Fund to work on Varda he didn’t think twice.
Bruey spent six years at SpaceX. First working on the Falcon and Dragon video systems and then the bulk of the systems actuators and controllers used in the avionics for the crewed Dragon capsule (which recently docked at the International Space Station). `
According to Asparouhov, that background, and the time …
3D-printed rocket startup Relativity Space has closed $500 million in Series D funding (making official the earlier reported raise), the company announced today. This funding was led by Tiger Global Management, and included participation by a host of new investors including Fidelity Management & Research Company, Baillie Gifford, Iconiq Capital, General Catalist and more. This brings the company’s total raised so far to nearly $700 million, as the startup is poised to launch its first ever fully 3D-printed orbital rocket next year.
LA-based Relativity had a big 2020, completing work on a new 120,000 square-foot manufacturing facility in Long Beach. Its rocket construction technology, which is grounded in its development and use of the largest metal 3D printers in existence, suffered relatively few setbacks due to COVID-19-related shutdowns and work stoppages since it involves relatively few actual people on the factory floor managing the 3D printing process, which is handled in large part by autonomous robotic systems and software developed by the company.
Relativity also locked in a first official contract from the U.S. government this year, to launch a new experimental cryogenic fluid management system on behalf of client Lockheed Martin, as part of NASA’s suite of Tipping Point contracts to fund the development of new technologies for space exploration. It also put into service its third-generation Stargate 3D metal printers – the largest on Earth, as mentioned.
The company’s ambitions are big, so this new large funding round should provide it with fuel to grow even more aggressively in 2021. It’s got new planned initiatives underway, both terrestrial and space-related, but CEO and founder Tim Ellis specifically referred to Mars and sustainable operations on the red planet as one possible application of Relativity’s tech down the road.
In prior conversations, Ellis has alluded to the potential for Relativity’s printers when applied to other large-scale metal manufacturing – noting that the cost curve as it stands makes most sense for rocketry, but could apply to other industries easily as the technology matures. Whether on Mars or on Earth, large-scale 3D printing definitely has a promising future, and it looks like Relativity is well-positioned to take advantage.
Getting to space isn’t as difficult as it used to be, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. Relativity Space aims to vastly simplify the incredibly complex machine that is a launch vehicle by 3D-printing it from tip to tail fins. Co-founder and CEO Tim Ellis will be joining us at TC Sessions: Space on December 16 & 17 to discuss the company’s ambitious plans and upcoming first launch.
Relativity was founded in 2015 and since then has racked up a full slate of eager customers, making its Terran-1 rocket possibly the most pre-sold launch vehicle ever. And it’s not hard to see why. The 3D printing process that Ellis, with co-founder and CTO Jordan Noone, dreamed up while cutting their rocketry teeth at Blue Origin, is potentially revolutionary.
Launch vehicles are normally made up of thousands of parts, each of which must be manufactured, inspected, and fitted together individually. This not only makes building a rocket a long and complex process, but an expensive one, too.
Relativity’s approach is to 3D print everything it possibly can in its enormous “Stargate” printers, reducing the total number of parts by orders of magnitude — while, at least according to pre-flight tests, not affecting the final product’s performance. In fact, by removing the magnification of minor manufacturing defects and human error in assembly, reliability and performance can be significantly improved.
Also at TC Sessions: Space
And if something goes wrong, well, you can break down the old one and print a new one in about two months, a fraction of the time it would take to build a new Delta IV or Falcon 9. Altogether it’s a very attractive proposition.
Of course, creating an entire new manufacturing process for rocketry from scratch is something of a major endeavor, but Relativity has done enough to convince both investors and customers that it is far from a mere science project. The company raised $35 million in 2018 and $140 million in 2019, and is preparing for its first orbital flight in 2021.
With next year shaping up to be the most important since the company was founded, Ellis will have a great deal to discuss, from the technology they use to the competition they’ll be going up against.