This week’s Pathfinder pod features Relativity Space CEO Tim Ellis. Tim walks us through what went wrong during Terran 1’s flight and why it won’t happen with Terran R. Listen to Pathfinder #0071 for more on Relativity’s future on Mars, whether there’s a rocket larger than Terran R in Relativity’s future, the long-term strategy for 3D printing, and much more.
Last March, Terran 1 became the first 3D printed rocket to reach suborbital space, but failed to reach orbit.
- Though Terran 1 achieved most of the company’s goals, Ellis shared that Terran 1 ultimately failed to reach orbit due to a problem with the second stage engine’s ignition in the vacuum of space, caused by the ingestion of a gas bubble by the turbo pumps, which are designed to pump liquid, not gas.
- This resulted in a phenomenon known as cavitation, leading to a failed startup sequence. Despite extensive ground testing, this was an issue that only became apparent in flight, and the company has identified design changes to prevent its recurrence in future launches.
The Shift to Terran R
Earlier this year, Relativity announced that it was scrapping Terran 1 development to focus solely on its larger Terran R vehicle.
- Ellis emphasized that this shift is not merely about scaling size but rather better aligning with market demands ($1.8B Terran R pipeline) and the broader vision of the company.
- Overall R&D costs should be in the ballpark of inflation adjusted Falcon 9 development figures (Tim believes to be ~$1B), but he mentioned that v1 of Terran R will be designed for reusability (unlike v1 of Falcon 9) and will have greater payload capacity to LEO (23,500 kg).
It’s no secret that Relativity has one of the most innovative marketing strategies of the major launch companies. Ellis shed light on the company’s unique marketing approach, which is as strategic as it is creative.
- He believes that in an industry dealing with expensive, long-term projects, it’s crucial to inspire and motivate people by focusing on high-effort, creative presentations. Music, particularly electronic music, plays a role in the brand’s energy, reflecting Ellis’s personal tastes.
- The aim is to make Relativity not just a rocket company but a brand that resonates with a broader audience.
In addition, Mo and Tim also discuss:
- Relativity’s future on Mars
- If there is a rocket larger than Terran R in the roadmap
- Long-term strategy surround 3D printing
- And much more…
This episode is brought to you by SpiderOak, a US-based software company that builds space cybersecurity products and solutions for civilian, military, and commercial space operations. Learn more at https://spideroak.com/
• Chapters •
00:00 – Intro & SpiderOak Ad
01:09 – The night of the Terran 1 launch
05:11 – What went wrong?
10:11 – Why not launch Terran 1 again?
15:18 – Are investors okay pushing out an orbital proof point?
20:38 – Terran R tech specs
29:05 – SpiderOak Ad break
29:52 – Milestones for Terran R
34:31 – Terran R’s manufacturing cadence at scale
37:46 – Terran R R&D costs (vs Falcon 9)
46:13 – 3D printing the Terran R
51:34 – The future of 3D printing
58:32 – Relativity’s marketing strategy
01:09:53 – Heavier than Terran R
01:14:48 – Relativity & Mars
01:15:22 – Tim’s favorite musical artists