Relativity Space want to 3D print space rockets

Relativity Space is a start-up company looking to marry 3D printing with space exploration. With many experts increasingly eager to make space travel an affordable option for much of humanity, there is a movement to greatly reducing its cost. Tim Ellis and Jordan Noone believe that 3D printing could produce quality rockets at only 10% of the cost.

3d printers have become something of a household name in the last few years. While not everyone has one in their home, they’ve certainly become a well known piece of technology. They’re being used to create figurines and lego bricks. They’re forming lightweight prosthetic limbs. 3d printers can even print food. Most people probably don’t associate 3d printing with the production of rockets capable of leaving Earth’s atmosphere. But then, most people are not currently a part of Relativity Space. Actually, that’s something of an understatement. At present, only fourteen people are full employees of the company as it works to build its first fully functional rocket. Though the value of those employees’ experience is perhaps more important.

Some of the types of objects more commonly associated with 3d printing.
Some of the types of objects more commonly associated with 3d printing.

Saving money and increasing efficiency

The company’s founders, Ellis and Noone have worked for Blue Origin and SpaceX respectively. Both of those companies want to revolutionise space travel with SpaceX in particular determined to make it more affordable. Ellis and Noone reportedly noticed from their time at these companies that one of the major costs in manufacturing space-vessels is labour. In fact, by eliminating this aspect of production, Relativity Space projects that they can reduce the cost of manufacturing a rocket by 90%. This means that a rocket may still costs ten of millions of dollars. But at least this is a big step down from hundreds of millions.

In addition to reducing the manufacturing costs, this process saves a lot of time. Parts can be produced and assembled by Relativity Space’s custom made robotic arms, called Stargate. These arms are reportedly over 20 feet tall and can assemble the rockets by themselves. This process is much faster than human labour and is not restricted by the same time limitations. The process should only take sixty days to build a complete rocket. Things are still in early stages, but once testing is complete, Relativity Space are very confident that thing will move quickly.

Relativity Space's custom automated factory, Stargate. (photo sourced from relativityspace.com)
Relativity Space’s custom automated factory, Stargate. (photo sourced from relativityspace.com)

It’s still a few years away, but the first functional rocket should be ready by 2021. If the team is successful, we might witness the beginning of a new era of human travel. We can only wait and see.