Young entrepreneur aims to send 3-D-printed rockets to space

Tim Ellis, the 28-year-old founder of a company that aims to send 3D-printed rockets to space
Tim Ellis, the 28-year-old founder of a company that aims to send 3D-printed rockets to space

To see Tim Ellis hunched over his laptop, alone in a room at a major space industry conference in Colorado, you can hardly imagine that he might be the next Elon Musk.

But Relativity Space, the company he co-founded in December 2015 with the vision of launching 3D-printed rockets, has grown from 14 to 80 employees in one year and will recruit another 40 this year.

At age 28, Ellis has lured several industry veterans, including from SpaceX, the US market leader for launches that was founded by billionaire entrepreneur Musk.

Relativity Space has raised $45 million so far, Canadian satellite operator Telesat has entrusted it with the launch of part of its future 5G satellite constellation and the US military has given it a launch pad at Cape Canaveral.

And Ellis, who six years ago was still studying for his masters in aerospace engineering at the University of Southern California, now sits on the White House's National Space Council along with former astronauts and the heads of the largest American aerospace groups.

"I'm the youngest person by more than 20 years, and we're the only venture capital backed start-up," Ellis told AFP during the 35th annual Space Symposium in Colorado Springs, a major annual event for the space industry that will welcome 15,000 participants from 40 countries.

Dozens of start-ups have announced plans in recent years to build small and medium rockets to launch small satellites. Many will probably fail before having made their first rocket, but that's the game, Ellis explained.

"The notion in Silicon Valley is you're going to take tons of big bets, where lots of them will totally lose money. But the ones that succeed will pay for all of the losers—and in a huge outcome, if it's the next Google or the next SpaceX," he said.

Relativity Space, which like SpaceX is based in Los Angeles, has so far printed nine rocket engines and three second stages for its rocket model, called Terran 1, whose first test flight is scheduled for the end of 2020.

Small satellites

With its large 3D-printing machines, the startup claims that its rockets will require 100 times fewer parts than traditional rockets.

"We'll only be experts in like two or three (technological) processes," he said, compared to traditional manufacturing with complex supply chains. "It's far easier."

Only the electronics are not 3D-printed.

"It's much cheaper, because of the labor reduction in the automation with 3D-printing," said Ellis, who will charge $10 million for a launch, at least at first.

"Also, it's more flexible," he said: eventually, Relativity Space will adapt the size of the fairings of the rockets to the requirements of individual customers, depending on the size of their satellite.

Speed is the other advantage: "Our target is to get from raw material to flight in 60 days," Ellis said.

If Relativity Space succeeds in this feat—which it has not yet demonstrated—it would revolutionize the launch industry. Today, a satellite operator can wait for years before having a place in the large rockets of Arianespace or SpaceX.

The Terran 1 will be 10 times smaller the SpaceX Falcon 9, able to place a 1,250 kilogram (2,755 pounds) payload into very low orbit (185 kilometers or 115 miles above the Earth's surface).

This could be suitable for a constellation of small satellites for telecommunications or imaging the Earth, but also for one of the largest customers in space: the US military.

This is another reason for the young executive's arrival in Colorado Springs: meeting senior Pentagon officials.

"I rarely wear a suit, but I will for the military," Ellis said.


Explore further

Ariane rocket puts telecoms satellites into orbit for India

© 2019 AFP

Citation: Young entrepreneur aims to send 3-D-printed rockets to space (2019, April 9) retrieved 19 September 2019 from https://phys.org/news/2019-04-young-entrepreneur-aims-d-printed-rockets.html
This document is subject to copyright. Apart from any fair dealing for the purpose of private study or research, no part may be reproduced without the written permission. The content is provided for information purposes only.
113 shares

Feedback to editors

User comments

Apr 09, 2019
Sounds like RocketLab's 3D printed Rutherford engines, which are boosting payloads into orbit already on the Electron rocket. Is the small-launch market due to become saturated, or is there enough demand for so many small LEO satellites?

Apr 09, 2019
Hey, maybe he can launch my planned 3-D printed thermonuclear warhead on his printed rocket.

Now that would be a serious advance in weapons development. Just have to keep those printers away from the wrong people. Anybody have any Pu^239-based ink?

Apr 09, 2019
@nostrings. you will need some pretty big printers for Musk-sized applications.

A question for you. Do you know what the largest mechanism presently working that was made on a 3-D printer? Something tells me the tech is limited (for whatever reason) to a certain size, and materials, but am not sure what that would be. They certainly are remarkable.

It seems rather unlikely you are going to create nuclear weapons with one. That would require some pretty sophisticated printing!

Apr 09, 2019
I want to see him drive around with 3-D printed break-pads and see how that works first.

Apr 10, 2019
question for you. Do you know what the largest mechanism presently working that was made on a 3-D printer? Something tells me the tech is limited (for whatever reason) to a certain size, and materials, but am not sure what that would be. They certainly are remarkable
uh why dont you use that PhD of yours and do some research yourself rather than asking others to do it for you? Unless of course it's not real... but then why would anyone put PhD in their nick unless it was real? Unless, you know, they were an exceptional moron.

Here let me help you out
https://www.google.com
It seems rather unlikely you are going to create nuclear weapons with one. That would require some pretty sophisticated printing!
My god this site is overflowing with trolls.

Apr 10, 2019
want to see him drive around with 3-D printed break-pads and see how that works first

"Watch as Bugatti torture-tests a 3D-printed titanium brake caliper"

"Ford Global Technologies LLC, the patent management and copyrighting arm of the Ford Motor Company, has filed an application detailing a method of making lightweight brake discs using 3D printing"

-and pads...
https://youtu.be/0SyptM5w3V0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more