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Cosmic Space

Blue Origin veterans spark space startups

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space venture turned 20 years old this week — and although the privately held company hasn’t yet put people into space, or put a rocket into orbit, it has spawned a new generation of space startups.

One of those startups, Relativity Space, pulled up stakes in Seattle early on and moved to Southern California. Now it’s making a multimillion-dollar splash and putting the pieces in place for the first launch of its Terran rocket from Florida next year.

Relativity is also going through a leadership transition: Jordan Noone, the venture’s co-founder and chief technology officer, announced today on Twitter that he’ll step back and become an executive adviser “in preparation for starting my next venture.” Relativity’s other co-founder, Blue Origin veteran Tim Ellis, will stay on as CEO.

Other startups are in semi-stealth mode. Here are three notable Seattle-area ventures with Blue Origin connections:

Stoke Space Technologies: Incorporated last October in Renton. Co-founders are CEO Andrew Lapsa, who was responsible for all aspects of development and operation for Blue Origin’s hydrogen-fueled BE-3 and BE-3U engines; and Thomas Feldman, an engineer who played a key role in designing components for the more powerful BE-4 engine, fueled by liquefied natural gas.

Stoke’s website says the company is “building technology to seamlessly connect Earth and orbit.” In May, the company won a $225,000 SBIR Phase I grant from the National Science Foundation to work on an integrated propulsion solution for reusable rocket upper stages.

Stoke says it’ll use the NSF funding “to develop new technology enabling space launch vehicles to re-enter the atmosphere and land propulsively at a target destination for reuse.” SpaceX’s Falcon rockets and Blue Origin’s yet-to-be-built New Glenn rocket are designed with first-stage reusability in mind. Stoke is looking ahead to the next giant leap in reusable rockets.

In addition to Lapsa and Feldman, LinkedIn lists three other Stoke employees with Blue Origin experience. And they have  job openings for a lead system architect and a “Superhuman.”

Reach Space Technologies: Incorporated in February in Maple Valley. The company’s website is still password-protected, but LinkedIn lists Mike Krene, former senior propulsion engineer at Blue Origin, as founder and CEO. Krene spent a decade at Blue Origin, and before that, he dealt with propulsion systems at SpaceX and Pratt & Whitney.

The venture says it aims to “accelerate the time and reduce the cost for new launch startups to get to commercial viability, thereby growing the overall launch market.”

“Our engine systems also provide a high-value, commercially focused propulsion option for existing NewSpace and traditional launch providers,” Reach Space says on its LinkedIn page.

The company says it has between two and 10 employees, including “leading engineers with experience across many flight and development rocket engine systems.”

Starfish Space: Incorporated last November in Kent, where Blue Origin is headquartered. The co-founders are Trevor Bennett, a former flight sciences engineer at Blue Origin; and Austin Link, who spent three years at Blue Origin as a flight sciences simulation engineer. Ian Heidenberger, Starfish’s principal roboticist, was an autonomous-controls engineer at Blue Origin.

Starfish says it’s a venture-backed startup but has not yet revealed details about its investors or investments. It’s working on an “on-demand, in-space transportation service,” including a space tug that could be used to relocate, deorbit or extend the life of satellites. It’s also developing the software to support rendezvous and proximity operations — with an emphasis on electric propulsion.

Four years ago, Jeff Bezos told me his goal for Blue Origin was to build the “heavy-lifting infrastructure” for a wider space industry ecosystem, just as the U.S. Postal Service, UPS and the internet furnished the infrastructure that got Amazon off the ground. Now it looks as if Blue Origin is providing a seedbed for that ecosystem, even before the company has fully occupied its own niche in the marketplace.

Correction for 12:35 a.m. PT Sept. 10: We’ve fixed the spelling of Ian Heidenberger’s name. Hat tip to Isaac Alexander.

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GeekWire

Relativity Space makes deals for California launches

Relativity Space, a startup that was born in Seattle but grew up in Los Angeles, says it has signed an agreement to develop launch facilities at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, and a contract with Iridium to launch satellites from those facilities.

The flurry of announcements marks a significant expansion for a company that barely existed five years ago but has raised $185 million since then.

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GeekWire

Relativity Space moves to new California HQ

Relativity Space rocket factory
An artist’s rendering shows Relativity Space’s autonomous rocket factory in Long Beach, Calif. (Relativity Space Illustration via Business Wire)

Relativity Space, the rocket company that was born in Seattle and headed south to Los Angeles, says it’s moving into a new 120,000-square-foot headquarters and factory in Long Beach, Calif., that will use giant robotic 3-D printers to make launch vehicles.

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GeekWire

Relativity raises $140M for 3D-printed rockets

Relativity Space factory
Relativity Space co-founders Tim Ellis and Jordan Noone check out a fully 3D-printed rocket segment at the company’s L.A. headquarters. (Relativity Space Photo via Business Wire)

Four years after it was founded in Seattle, Relativity Space has landed its biggest infusion of capital to date — and says the $140 million investment will fully fund its drive to launch the world’s first all-3D-printed rocket into orbit and enter commercial service in 2021.

The company, now based in Los Angeles, was founded by two rocket engineers with connections to Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space venture: CEO Tim Ellis, who worked on propulsion development and 3-D printing at Blue Origin’s headquarters in Kent, Wash.; and chief technology officer Jordan Noone, who was a Blue Origin intern and went on to work at SpaceX as a propulsion development engineer.

The newly announced $140 million Series C funding round was led by Bond and Tribe Capital. The new investors include a few well-known personalities from the worlds of technology and entertainment, including former Zillow CEO Spencer Rascoff, former Disney President Michael Ovitz and actor Jared Leto (who played a high-tech villain in “Blade Runner 2049″).

Others in on the round include new investors Lee Fixel and Republic Labs, plus current investors Playground Global, Y Combinator, Social Capital and Mark Cuban.

“Relativity was founded with the long-term vision of 3-D printing the first rocket made on Mars and expanding the possibilities for human experience in our lifetime,” Ellis said in a news release. With the close of our Series C funding, we are now one step closer to that vision by being fully funded to launch Terran 1 to orbit as the world’s first entirely 3D printed rocket.”

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GeekWire

Spaceflight makes launch deal with Relativity

Relativity Terran 1 liftoff
An artist’s conception shows Relativity Space’s Terran 1 rocket lifting off from Launch Complex 16 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. (Relativity Space Illustration)

Seattle-based Spaceflight has signed a launch services agreement to put payloads on Relativity Space’s Terran 1 rocket.

Relativity, a startup that got its start in Seattle but is now headquartered in Los Angeles, says the agreement covers the purchase of a first launch that’s scheduled to take place in late 2021. There are also options for additional rideshare launches in the future, the company said in a news release.

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Relativity Space to launch satellites for Telesat

Relativity Terran 1 liftoff
An artist’s conception shows Relativity Space’s Terran 1 rocket lifting off from Launch Complex 16 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. (Relativity Space Illustration)

Relativity Space CEO Tim Ellis is a veteran of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space venture — and in a sense, you could say that Ellis and Blue Origin are on the same team once again.

Today, the startup that Ellis co-founded in Seattle and moved to Los Angeles is making its first announcement of a launch contract, and it’s a big one: Relativity Space will provide multiple launches for Telesat, the Canadian telecom giant that’s planning to put scores of satellites in low Earth orbit to deliver global broadband connectivity.

“This is the first time Telesat or any major global satellite operator has selected a completely venture-backed aerospace startup for launch services,” Ellis told GeekWire.

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Relativity will use historic launch pad at the Cape

Relativity space launch
An artist’s conception shows Relativity Space’s Terran 1 rocket taking off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Launch Complex 16. (Relativity Space Illustration)

Relativity Space, the California-based rocket startup that got its start in Seattle, has won Air Force clearance to build its Florida launch facility on a site that saw service during NASA’s Apollo and Gemini programs in the 1960s.

The agreement gives Relativity Space exclusive use of Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Launch Complex 16 — which was first used for Titan missile launches, and then for Gemini crew processing and static firing tests of the Apollo service module’s propulsion engine under NASA’s supervision.

After Apollo, the site was returned to the Air Force and used for test-firing Pershing ballistic missiles. Launch Complex 16 has been largely dormant since the Pershing program was deactivated in 1988 to comply with the U.S.-Soviet Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty.

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Relativity raises $35M for 3-D printed rockets

Stargate 3-D printer
An illustration shows how Relativity Space’s Stargate metal 3-D printer compares with the height of a human. (Relativity Space Illustration)

Just a week after unveiling an agreement to use one of NASA’s rocket test complexes in Mississippi, Relativity Space is announcing $35 million in new funding that’ll help the rocket-building startup take advantage of the deal.

The Series B financing round is led by Playground Global, with full participation from Relativity’s existing investors, Social Capital, Y Combinator and billionaire entrepreneur Mark Cuban. The money brings total investment in the three-year-old company to more than $45 million.

“It’ll make us able to grow the team from 17 employees to over 45 by the end of this year,” Relativity CEO and co-founder Tim Ellis told GeekWire.

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Relativity strikes deal to use NASA test complex

Relativity engine test
Relativity’s Aeon 1 engine undergoes a test firing at NASA’s Stennis Space Center. (Relativity Photo)

Relativity, a rocket startup with roots at Blue Origin and SpaceX, says it has been awarded an exclusive 20-year lease to use a 25-acre engine test complex at NASA’s Stennis Space Center in Mississippi.

The arrangement furthers Relativity’s plans to develop its 3-D-printed Aeon 1 rocket engine as the heart of its low-cost Terran rocket, with an eye toward starting commercial launches in 2021.

Relativity got its organizational start in Seattle two years ago, thanks in part to CEO Tim Ellis’ background as a propulsion engineer for billionaire Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space venture in Kent, Wash. Relativity’s chief technology officer, Jordan Noone, interned at Blue Origin and worked at SpaceX.

Since its founding, Relativity’s base of operations has shifted to Los Angeles, where it has a production facility that boasts the world’s largest metal 3-D printer.

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Relativity Space reveals plan for 3-D printed rockets

Relativity Space factory
Relativity Space’s Stargate 3-D printer is at work at the company’s Los Angeles factory, with a 3-D printed fuel tank sitting at left. (Relativity Space Photo)

Can a robotic 3-D printer spit out all the parts of a rocket without humans stepping in until the end? Relativity Space says that’s what it’s working toward.

The company, which has its roots in the Seattle area and is now headquartered in Los Angeles, stepped out of the shadows today with a website that shows off its technology. Two of its founders, CEO Tim Ellis and chief technology officer Jordan Noone, are veterans of Blue Origin, Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos’ space venture.

Ellis provided hints of what Relativity Space was up to during a congressional hearing in July, but the updated website lays out the plan in much more detail. An on-the-scene report from Bloomberg News provides additional color.

Relativity’s aim is to reduce the cost of launch vehicles dramatically by streamlining the manufacturing process. It says its fully 3-D printed rockets will have only 1,000 parts, compared to the 100,000 or more moving parts that a traditional rocket contains.

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