Relativity CEO Tim Ellis talks about his company’s Mars mission

Last week, Relativity Space and Impulse Space announced A partnership to launch the first private mission to Mars. The two startups say they will try to launch a Red Planet lander in early 2024.

Under the agreement, Relativity will launch Impulse’s Mars cruise vehicle and Mars lander on a 3D-printed Terran R rocket from Cape Canaveral. Terran R will enter a Trans-Mars Injection (TMI) orbit, and once there, Impulse’s aeroshell-equipped Mars lander will attempt a propellant landing on the surface of Mars. The Relativity/Impulse Mars partnership lasts until 2029.

The 2024-2025 timetable merits a healthy dollop of skepticism. but as Ars Technica recently written“This announcement – however audacious it may be – probably deserves to be taken seriously because of the companies and players involved.”

Relativity is gearing up for its first orbital launch attempt with the Terran 1 rocket. It should announce a launch date in the coming weeks, Relativity CEO Tim Ellis recently told payload, Meanwhile, Impulse is led by Tom Mueller, who was on SpaceX’s founding team. The startup’s short-term focus is on last-mile delivery services in LEO as well as in-orbit servicing, debris orbiting and space station orbit-keeping.

Payload caught up with Relativity’s Ellis briefly to discuss the mission, ramping up production at Relativity’s new 1-million-square-foot facility, and the Terran R. This interview was lightly edited for clarity and length.

What does this partnership and deal represent in the context of Relativity’s long-term mission?

This is our first, concrete step towards establishing an industrial base on Mars, which has been our mission from day one. Relativity was created with the goal of building a multi-planetary future for humans, and this partnership moves us rapidly toward making this a reality.

No two Terran R launches will be the same. That said, how different is the Mars mission with Impulse?

What makes this mission different is that it focuses on multi-planetary transport, not satellite launch services. But both types of missions require the same core capabilities for Terran R. That’s why we designed the Terran R to be fully reusable. It is certainly a unique challenge, but an important one that we feel confident in tackling.

Relativity hasn’t made an orbital launch attempt yet (though I know it’s coming soon). Do you worry that the Mars mission could distract the company from ramping up production?

Our mission has always been Mars. So, we don’t see it as a distraction — it’s about delivering on what we set out to do when starting the company. To be clear, we’re focused on launching Terran 1, the first 3D printed rocket this year, because it’s extremely important and helps us move toward Terran R and this mission.

As I’ve heard before, it’s not making the first rocket that’s the hard part, it’s making the next 10. Any thoughts here?

In terms of increasing production, we are close to completing the printing of our next Terran 1 vehicle NASA VCLS 2 Mission, and have begun installing our new fourth generation Stargate metal 3D printer at our 1M+ square foot factory in Long Beach, which is dedicated to printing Terran R vehicles. We have also signed five clients for the Terran R, including a multiple-launch agreement with OneWeb, with total outstanding of more than $1.2 billion.

How razor-focused are the Relativity and Impulse crews on making the next Mars window? Obviously, one slip and then waiting a few more years would not be ideal.

Our launch window is aggressive, but doable—and we’re confident we have a solid shot at making it happen. The partnership agreement is also in a special arrangement until 2029, with a launch window every two years, so we’ll have multiple launch options, as well as opportunities for repeatable commercial missions to Mars, which set off a serious business. out of payload. red Planet.

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