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Rockets at 10 Percent of the Cost

A new aerospace startup claims it can cut the cost of manufacturing a rocket by 90% and complete production within a month using large 3D printers.

Relativity Space (founded by some Blue Origin and SpaceX veterans) has designed its own massive 3D printers that use robotic arms to create fuel tanks and other components. The company claims that by eliminating human labor from the process, it could bring the cost of a launch down from $100 million to just $10 million.

“This is the right direction,” said CEO Tim Ellis in an interview with Bloomberg. “The 3D printing and automation of rockets is inevitable.”

The company’s 3D printer (dubbed Stargate) can print a fuel tank in a few days and a rocket engine in less than two weeks.

The printer that Relativity has designed includes 18-ft.-tall robotic arms with lasers that melt aluminum wire. They can conceivably print an entire rocket body as a single piece. They have already printed a 7×14-ft. fuel tank as well as an engine.

“We believe autonomous manufacturing … really gets us to that point where we save a lot of money,” Ellis said.

The company is also developing custom alloys for its rocket components, and hopes to greatly consolidate the number of parts on a typical rocket. “The space shuttle had 2.5 million moving parts,” Ellis said. “We think SpaceX and Blue Origin have gotten that do
wn to maybe 100,000 moving parts per rocket. We want to get to 1,000 moving parts, fewer than a car.”

Relativity plans to print a 90-ft. rocket with a 2,000-lbs. payload capacity by the middle of 2020. A prototype launch could happen as early as 2021.

Source: Bloomberg

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