Rocket printer Relativity Space is raising a $500 million D round, valuing the launch provider at $2.3 billion, as reported by CNBC and confirmed to TechCrunch by sources familiar with the matter. That's not bad for a company that has yet to take its first payload to orbit.
Relativity aims to reduce the cost and increase the speed of assembling a launch vehicle by 3D printing it from tip to tail fin. The process has many advantages that have been borne out in testing — and the company aims to launch its first mission in 2021.
The company's last big raise was $140 million in late 2019, which helped it build out a new Long Beach headquarters and finalize its Terran-1 rocket. The switch from a series of machines and assembly lines with fixed tooling to a handful of enormous custom 3D printers both simplifies the building process and enables new capabilities.
For instance, Relativity recently snagged its first big government contract, a NASA-Lockheed mission with special considerations for the cyogenic systems in the payload. These can be revised and tested right up to a couple months before launch, unlike an ordinary building process which might require the hardware to be locked in a year or more before.
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The $500 million round would presumably be to scale operations in earnest, gathering the personnel, materials, transportation, insurance and other necessaries for taking on major missions. Terran-1 hasn't flown yet, but the projected costs and cadences make it a very attractive option, larger than Rocket Lab's Electron but smaller than a SpaceX Falcon 9 — and pound for pound, maybe more cost-effective than both.
Much depends on the next year as Relativity takes Terran-1 from the factory to the launchpad. The first orbital test flight is planned for late 2021.
CNBC's Michael Sheetz reported that Tiger Global Management will lead the round, with Fidelity also joining and existing investors adding their support.