Relativity Space is breaking new ground in the aerospace industry, through the use of 3D printing. Founded by former USC classmates, Tim Ellis and Jordan Noone, the two are utilizing their background and engineering education to introduce new ways of aircraft and aerospace manufacturing.
Tim and Jordan met as members of the Rocket Propulsion Lab at USC, which is an aerospace engineering club that teaches and explores state-of-the-art rocket technology. After graduating from USC they went on to work for SpaceX and Blue Origin.
While still early in both of their careers, they soon discovered the demand for a manufacturing process that would create a lightweight launch vehicle, while drastically cutting the time in the tooling and manufacturing process. Having worked with 3D printers previously, they used their expertise and ingenuity to develop the technology for 3D printing of rockets, which is now in high demand by communications and constellations companies.
Through a cold email from Jordan to investor Mark Cuban, Relativity Space was given the capital and resources needed to open its doors in 2016.
The process for tooling of parts, and the subsequent manufacturing and assembly is understandably long and detailed. Hundreds of parts and thousands of engineering hours are spent designing and creating molds for the intricate manufacturing of aircraft – including that of rockets. The extensive detail that goes into the design and engineering process culminates in over a year of manufacturing and assembly. In this process accuracy is key.
Relativity has taken this needed accuracy, attention to detail, and understanding of aircraft tooling and manufacturing, and transformed the process through software. The process of manufacturing a launch vehicle that traditionally takes over a year is consolidated to only days – with the same level of accuracy and detail involved in the traditional tooling process. Building based on software also allows for flexibility; if design specifications are changed they can more easily be altered in software – rather than the usual hardware mold. Design and build through software also allows for a greater level of complexity.
Relativity has two locations – one in Inglewood and the other in Mississippi. Stargate – the name of Relativity’s 3D printer – is being used by the private sector for satellite launches, but is also being used in a partnership with NASA at their Mississippi location.
The Inglewood site currently employs 14 people, most of which are engineers. Tim and Jordan trade travel time to the Mississippi location. Employee growth is expected to reach 40 – 60 employees by the end of the year. They plan to grow their facility to over 100,000 square feet and are currently searching for sites. Their biggest criteria in their site location search is for a facility that can accommodate the electrical power that Stargate draws.
With Tim being from Dallas and Jordan from South Pasadena, and both of them attending USC, they definitely appreciate the LA environment and the engineering talent pool from which to pull. However, they do look forward to the region providing more support for the tech and entrepreneurial community. Regardless, they ’re making plans for Stargate 2, using their ingenuity and insight to propel the aerospace industry in LA County into the future.