Rocket builder Relativity Space Inc., a Long Beach-based startup, signed a contract to build a 3D-printed rocket for aerospace and defense contractor Lockheed Martin Corp. as part of an upcoming experimental NASA mission.

The contract is part of NASA’s Tipping Point program, which has doled out $370 million to 15 companies.


Bethesda, Md.-based Lockheed said it received an $89.7 million award “to test more than a dozen cryogenic fluid management technologies, positioning them for infusion into future space systems.”


Relativity Space, one of Lockheed’s subcontractors, will build the Terran 1 launch vehicle for the in-orbit refueling demonstration. It will be the world’s first 3D-printed rocket.


Lockheed wants to use Relativity’s 3D-printing technology to construct a rocket that will carry liquid hydrogen, “the most challenging of the cryogenic propellants.”


The target launch date for the NASA mission is in 2023. 


“Relativity is proud to be the launch provider for this demonstration mission, and we appreciate Lockheed Martin’s support of our disruptive 3D-printing approach,” Tim Ellis, Relativity Space co-founder and chief executive, said in a statement.


“In addition to demonstrating Lockheed Martin’s in-orbit cryogenic fluid management capabilities, this mission will also highlight the significant advantages 3D printing brings to space launch over traditional manufacturing, including dramatically decreasing time to launch even for specialized payloads,” he added.


Relativity aims to build a rocket almost entirely made of 3D-printed parts using its Stargate printers, which are capable of producing a single piece of metal up to 32 feet tall.


The company moved into its 120,000-square-foot Long Beach headquarters this summer and employs about 200 people.


Relativity has been developing a 3D-printed rocket since 2015. It raised $140 million last year led by Bond Capital. Other investors include Zillow Inc. co-founder
Spencer Rascoff, actor Jared Leto and entrepreneur Mark Cuban.


Relativity plans its own first orbital test flight in late 2021.

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