• This funding makes Relativity second most valuable space company after SpaceX: Report
  • Relativity's rocket Terran 1, 95% of whose parts are made with 3D-printers, will launch in 2021-end
  • Founder Tim Ellis aims to build a "sustainable society on Mars"

Relativity Space, a 3D-printing rocket builder, closed a Series D funding round worth $500 million on Monday led by blue-chip investors.

The round, which values the company at around $2.3 billion, was led by Tiger Global Management, and was joined by fellow new Relativity Space investors including Fidelity, ICONIQ Capital, General Catalyst, XN Capital and Elad Gil. The startup’s existing investors were also part of the funding round.

Relativity Space, founded in 2015 by Tim Ellis and Jordan Noone, is now the second-most valuable private space company after Elon Musk’s SpaceX, CNBC said quoting a PitchBook report. It shares with Musk the long-term vision of building an infrastructure for humans on Mars.

“I’m hoping Relativity’s continued success inspires and emboldens more entrepreneurs to found companies that have lucrative near-term business opportunities, but also can build towards building a sustainable society on Mars,” Ellis is quoted as saying in the report.

The company wants to change the way rockets are built, and aims to use giant 3D-printers to make parts, for which it now has capital. It's now working on its Terran 1 rocket, 95% of whose parts are made with “the world’s largest 3D-printers,” which Relativity built, Ellis told CNBC.

He explained that rockets made this way are less complex and built more quickly as compared with traditional rockets, which use 3D-printers only for some parts. Relativity claims that its process can make rockets out of raw materials within two months.

The cost for launching one Terran 1 is around $12 million, the rockets are able to carry 1,250 kilograms to low Earth orbit, according to the company's website. The Relativity Space rocket is in direct competition with SpaceX’s Falcon 9 and Rocket Lab’s Electron when it comes to price and payload.

Ellis said that raising money was not part of the company's initial plan, as it still had a majority of the funding from the $140 million it raised in October 2019. That round of funds helped the Terran 1’s development, but the fresh investment will be used to accelerate the work.

Terran 1’s first launch will be in the second half of 2021. The rocket has passed a series of pressurization tests, indicating the strength of materials made from the 3D-printers. The company also has new headquarters in Long Beach, California, where the testing and development takes place.

Ellis also said it the company intends to remain private in the near future, while there is a possibility of taking Relativity public via a SPAC merger.

Relativity and its rocket construction technology were not seriously impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, as its factories have very few people working on the floor. The 3D-printing process is handled mostly by autonomous robotic systems and software developed by the company, according to a report.

Ellis has indicated that his company's metal 3D-printers, which he says are the world's largest, also can be used in industries other than space.