SpaceX, Rocket Labs and Relativity Labs

Since June 2010, rockets from the Falcon 9 family have been launched 127 times, with 125 full mission successes, one partial failure and one total loss of spacecraft. In addition, one rocket and its payload were destroyed on the launch pad during the fueling process before a static fire test.

SpaceX is progressing to the first orbital fligth of Super Heavy Starship this month or next. This will increase payloads to 100-150 tons reusable and 150-250 tons of expendable launch. The lower numbers are the initial metrics and the higher numbers are aspirational for a mature system.

Rocket Lab completed a SPAC merger which values Rocket Lab at US$4.1 billion and provided US$790 million in working capital in order to begin development of a new medium-lift two-stage-to-orbit launch vehicle called Neutron, aiming for the mega-constellation satellite deployment market.

Electron is a two-stage, partially recoverable orbital launch vehicle developed by Rocket Lab. The Electron has flown 21 times since May 2017, with a total of 18 successes and 3 failures.

In December 2016, Electron completed flight qualification. The first rocket was launched on 25 May 2017, reaching space but not achieving orbit due to a glitch in communication equipment on the ground, due to it still being a test flight called “It’s a Test”. During its second flight on 21 January 2018, Electron reached orbit and deployed three CubeSats, in a mission called “Still Testing”. The first commercial launch of Electron, and the third launch overall, occurred on 11 November 2018, in a mission called “It’s Business Time”.

The Rocket Lab Neutron rocket is expected to be 40 m (130 ft) tall with a 4.5 m (15 ft)-diameter fairing. Rocket Lab have said they are going to aim to make the first stage of the vehicle reusable with landings planned on a floating landing platform downrange in the ocean. Neutron launches are intended to take place from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport on the eastern coast of Virginia, by modifying the existing launch pad infrastructure at Launch Pad 0A (LP-0A). The company is evaluating locations across the United States to build a factory to manufacture the new rocket. As of March 2021, the company is planning for the first launch no earlier than 2024.

Relativity Space is aiming to be the first company to successfully launch a fully 3D-printed launch vehicle into orbit. In November 2020, Relativity Space had US$500 million Series D funding with US$2.3 billion valuation. In June 2021 Relativity had another US$650 million funding round led by Fidelity Investments with US$4.2 billion, bringing its total funding to US$1.335 billion. The funding will help the development of a fully reusable medium lift launch vehicle, the Terran R, targeting the first orbital launch not earlier than 2024. The company anticipates it will launch its first rocket, named Terran 1, in early 2022.

Terran 1 is an expendable launch vehicle under development that will consist of two stages. As of 2020, the first stage was planned to use nine Aeon 1 engines, while the second stage was being planned to use a single Aeon 1 engine. The maximum payload was expected to be 1,250 kg (2,760 lb) to 185 km (115 mi) low Earth orbit (LEO), normal payload 900 kg (2,000 lb) to 500 km (310 mi) Sun-synchronous orbit (SSO), high-altitude payload 700 kg (1,500 lb) to 1,200 km (750 mi) SSO. Relativity’s advertised launch price was US$12 million per Terran 1 mission in June 2020. As of August 2021, Relativity hopes to conduct the first launch of Terran 1 in early 2022.

The Terran R is a fully reusable launch vehicle under development designed to compete with SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket. The first stage will use seven Aeon R engines, while the second stage will used an upgraded Aeon 1 engine with a copper chamber. With this design, Relativity is aiming to exceed the Falcon 9 payload to low-Earth orbit by approximately 20 percent, with a target payload mass as of June 2021 of approximately 20 tonnes (44,000 lb), with a long term goal to make the first orbital launch as early as 2024

21 thoughts on “SpaceX, Rocket Labs and Relativity Labs”

  1. Not many new hazardous rated truck drivers coming into the industry as more people exit. That's a raw logistics/HR problem

  2. Carbon and other volatile elements will be very valuable raw materials in space. Another reason to consider catching carbon rich asteroids with drones and herding them where they are needed.

    Either whole or in pieces, but I suspect bringing any sizeable space rock anywhere near Earth won't be very popular (thanks to all those dinosaur documentaries). So probably in chunks.

    We simply can't export enough volatile elements from Earth for making really sizeable habitats. Let's notice Mars has no such disadvantage.

  3. Their market seems to be what SpaceX doesn't cover, at least for the brief period before Starship becomes so dominant and cheap it no longer matters.

    Ride sharing launches aren't good for everyone, given the need of fuel for orbit correction and positioning.

    It won't matter in the longer term, because with Starship, they could launch in rideshare and also include several propulsion modules (ion or others) for reaching several orbit inclinations.

    Soon orbit would cease being an ultra high cost proposition, regardless. Which could be a problem, if no measures are taken for disposal of old satellites.

  4. hoping that it will more likely be parts and phases to a greater whole. Just a rats' nest of scattered and disparate objects up there seems kind of sad.

  5. All we need is enuf to set off to the abundant regions with tankers. Bootstrapping, O'Neill called it. More than just ISMRU, a way of seeing the end and "working to finish" even tho it may seem a lot of trouble in the beginning. Bezos has the bucks to start working on things as soon as he thinks the thing will actually be needed. This gives time without much added expense to do it better. We know that Earth cannot supply this stuff by launch at scale.

    "The suite of LCROSS and LRO instruments determined as much as 20 percent
    of the material kicked up by the LCROSS impact was volatiles, including
    methane, ammonia, hydrogen gas, carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide."

  6. agreed. payloads will be moderate for a long time. maybe tee up some of those other 'cargo' orbital insertion strategies…

  7. well. the first 10-year armada could be stuff – lots of stuff, and then fuel and repairs for the stuff, after. And still later… we'll need to clean and organize the stuff when it gets 'hoard-ish' in the orbits. That must be good for several hundred launches…

  8. Satellite placement is nice. Cheap is nice. But a bridge to nowhere will have limited long-term possibilities when tourism plateaus. Stations, planets, moons, orbits, free-float, NEOs – what destinations are we developing and how/ why/ when?

  9. Oh, come on. Oxygen is widely available on the Moon. Water, C and N are only trace constituents anywhere outside polar cold traps. If we started exploiting them for rocket propellant we could exhaust the supply in half a century.

    On Mars you can manufacture propellant virtually anywhere.

  10. The first I heard of it, was with rocket delay at Vandy, I think, but was trucks, not actual supply, for N, where the O2 was taking all the trucks, none left for cheaper N2. All I know is the quote, and I did not otherwise save the article. The bigger point is that, on Earth, everything is already whack a mole shortage or expense. TANSTAAFL. We may have enuf to send a few off to Mars, but ISMRU or 20TWe of Space Solar? Set those lunar resource supply lines up 40 years ago.

  11. I'm having serious difficulty believing that there are enough people on oxygen in ICUs to have this kind of impact on LOX supplies. The most economical way for hospitals to supply their oxygen is with on site oxygen concentrators, but granted, a lot of hospitals still use the more expensive LOX. Which is an extra purified medical grade, that doesn't directly compete with commercial uses, though the commercial O2 would be the starting point.

    In fact, industry reports say that the liquid oxygen industry has actually been suffering from *reduced* demand during the pandemic, for industrial LOX thanks to reduced production schedules for their customers.

    Last year an industry newsletter reported that there was no plausible scenario under which there'd be a shortage.

    It seems rather more likely that, instead of a shortage due to excess demand, some of the key plants have been shut down by Covid restrictions, reducing capacity. In fact, a bit of research says that the real problem is not on the production end, but instead a shortage of LOX trucks and drivers.

    Of course, it doesn't help that almost all medical O2 just gets vented back to the atmosphere…

  12. "maybe even more so than the Moon because you can do full ISRU for fuel and oxidizer from Mars." Once again, more and more tiresomely, there is ample water, C and N on the Moon. Certainly to get started, until tankers from further out get started, but even then, only when needed.

    edit: It will be more difficult for Musk CH4 rockets, as he will have to set up his own C process while others are still stuck on their poorly thot out H stuff. Well, one of the plans is poorly thot out.

  13. You planet chauvinism is glowing red. Given that we don't need to be on the surface of either, except trivially on the Moon to set up mass driver, it is *beyond* trivial to go from either surface to local orbit. Don't land. It is EASIER than landing in the first place! My point, and O'Neill's, exactly.

    edit: thus, we build the Moon O'Neill Module, as well as the Mars O'Neill Module, along with the Middle-earth O'Neill Module, in LEO and get them up and running, before towing into position, where needed radiation shielding can be added. Everyone needs a MOM.

  14. "Now, to the Moon, where we cannot do that, and on to Mars, where we also cannot do that."

    Getting in to lunar orbit from the surface of the Moon is trivial.

    Getting in to Mars orbit from the surface of Mars is trivial, maybe even more so than the Moon because you can do full ISRU for fuel and oxidizer from Mars.

  15. I see two main takeaways from the BO article.
    1. It looks like Bezos is pushing his team to do the "fail forward" method used by SX. If he can institutionalize this thinking, it should transform BO into a real competitor. We'll see.
    2. Of course his other focus is on lawyers.

  16. Just to be perfectly clear, these two newer small companies – Rocket Lab and Relativity – have achieved orbit, while BO has not.

    "Neutron, aiming for the mega-constellation satellite deployment market."

    I'm not sure how sound a strategy this is, when SpaceX StarLink is the main mega-constellation program. They can supply their own launches and be their own customer without any outside help. Why use Neutron?

    And if there are any other mega-constellation projects, this makes them a cost competitor in terms of pounds to orbit against SpaceX. Good luck with that.

  17. "Blue Origin may assert that the resources of space belong to no one and
    that the company may stake claims to resources on the Moon and
    elsewhere." Now that real groundbreaking science that gives joy to the astronauts as they help the Earth has started on ISS, NASA's basic message is: "We love helping the earth and making scientific history, being the first to have micr0g as an evironmental choice. Now, to the Moon, where we cannot do that, and on to Mars, where we also cannot do that."

    edit: "(Bloomberg) — A refinery on the Texas Gulf Coast shut part of a key
    process unit due to a lack of oxygen supply amid a resurgence of the
    coronavirus pandemic, with authorities citing increased medical demand
    for the gas." Musk is launching O2 from Earth indefinitely.

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