Small launch vehicle startup Relativity Space has secured a six-launch deal with telecommunications giant Iridium. The company is best known for developing the “world’s first 3D printed launch vehicles” but has yet to make its maiden launch attempt.
In a June 24 press release, Relativity Space announced the Iridium contract includes flexible access for up to six dedicated launches. The six missions will be used to deploy “Iridium ground spare satellites to low Earth orbit” to supplement the company’s second-generation telecommunications constellation.
The second-generation Iridium constellation was completed in January 2019. The constellation consists of 66 operational satellites and 9 in-orbit spares. This offers a large amount of redundancy for the company through the constellation’s lifetime. However, in order to continue to operate at full capacity regardless of circumstances, an additional 6 “ground spare satellites” were built.
To ensure these ground spare satellites can be launched quickly to mitigate or eliminate downtime, Iridium required a flexible provider that could offer launch services within “months, instead of years.”
According to Relativity Space, the company’s “disruptive large-scale robotic 3D printing technology” is geared towards rapid turnaround. This enables the company to offer the flexibility that Iridium requires.
“As the first 3D printed launch vehicle, Terran 1 offers uniquely disruptive flexibility, cost, and performance advantages, especially for medium-payload missions that need dedicated launches,” said Tim Ellis, CEO and co-founder, Relativity Space.
The final piece in the puzzle that allowed a virtual unknown to secure a lucrative launch deal is Relativity Space’s Vandenberg launch site.
The company secured the right to build rocket launch facilities at Vandeberg on June 24, 2020 through a US Air Force Right of Entry Agreement. The site will allow Relativity Space to launch its Terrain 1 rocket to the polar orbits needed for the Iridium satellite constellation.
Currently, the first of the six Iridium launches is planned for no earlier than 2023. This should give Relativity Space time to complete development of its Terrain 1 rocket and launch its maiden flight before moving onto its backlog of commercial missions.