Tuesday, April 09, 2019

Telesat Hires a Four Year Old US Based Start-up to Launch its Satellites

          By Brian Orlotti

On April 5th, Los Angeles CA based Relativity Space, a manufacturer of 3D-printed rockets, announced that it has signed its first commercial contract with Telesat, the Ottawa-based commsat operator and pillar of Canada’s space sector.

The agreement is a major coup for the young American NewSpace firm and a sad reminder of Canada’s willingness to support foreign space industries at the expense of its own plentiful and skilled homegrown talent.

As outlined in the April 5th, 2019 Space News post, "Relativity signs contract with Telesat for launching LEO constellation," the contract covers the launch of an unspecified number of Telesat LEO satellites on Relativity launch vehicles, starting no earlier than 2021. The companies declined to disclose the terms of the contract.

Relativity Space was founded in 2015 by former Blue Origin and SpaceX engineers Tim Ellis and Jordan Noone. Ellis and Noone both felt that their employers were not harnessing 3D printing’s full potential in the manufacture of rockets and forged out on their own.

During their initial fundraising round, they courted American billionaire Mark Cuban and impressed him enough to obtain an initial $500,000 US ($655,000 CDN) of seed capital. At the same time, Relativity Space was accepted into the Mountain View CA based Y-Combinator tech accelerator.

The company has since raised over $44.5Mln US ($59Mln CDN) and now has 60 employees.

Relativity’s main product, the Terran-1 rocket, is a 3D-printed, expendable, two-stage launch vehicle. The Terran-1’s maximum payload will be 1,250 kg to low Earth orbit, or a normal payload of 900 kg to 500 km sun synchronous orbit.

The Terran-1 will be powered by the Aeon 1, a 3D printed, liquid methane and liquid oxygen-fueled engine. Made of a nickel alloy, the Aeon 1 consists of about 100 parts.

To build Terran-1 and Aeon-1, Relativity created its own custom metal 3D printer called ‘Stargate.’ Stargate utilizes 18-foot-tall robotic arms equipped with lasers that melt metal wire. These arms can deposit about eight inches’ worth of metal onto a large turntable in just one second.

Directed by custom software, these robotic arms can produce entire rocket bodies and fuel tanks as one piece. The Stargate 3D printer enables Relativity Space to reduce the part count of a typical rocket from 100,000 to 1,000 and build entire rockets in 60 days.

The company has a launch site at Cape Canaveral in Florida and a test facility at NASA’s Stennis Space Centre. It is currently in the process of acquiring a launch site in California that will expand its launch capabilities for customers.

Relativity’s first launch of the Terran-1 is slated for late 2020. Terran-1’s price is around $10Mln US ($13.3Mln CDN) for a 1,250-kilogram payload launch to low Earth orbit.

The Relativity-Telesat deal comes on the heels of Amazon’s unveiling of its plans to create a SpaceX Starlink-esque low-earth-orbit satellite network of its own, with Billionaire Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’ own rocket company, Kent WA based Blue Origin, doing the heavy lifting.

As outlined in the January 31st, 2019 Space News post, "Telesat signs New Glenn multi-launch agreement with Blue Origin for LEO missions," Telesat has also struck a deal with Blue Origin to launch satellites for its future low-Earth-orbit broadband constellation.

Useful wisdom from Lebanese-American writer, poet, visual artist and Lebanese nationalist Kahlil Gibran (1883 - 1931). Photo c/o Wikipedia.

It is a cruel irony of history that as a storied Canadian space firm like Telesat pays a US startup to build rockets, Canada’s own capable and ambitious young rocket engineers are starved of both funding and support.

Talented groups like the University of Toronto Aerospace Team (UTAT) and the McGill Rocket Team are forced to hone their skills in competitions south of the border due to lack of funding and regulatory mechanisms in their homeland. Groups whose talented members, lacking investment capital to form their own companies will, upon graduation, emigrate to work in other nation’s space industries.

As next-generation American, Chinese, Indian and New Zealander rockets soar into space to begin the next epoch of humanity, Canada seems content to stand ashore slurping a Tim Horton's "double double" with an oh-so-Canadian shrug.
Brian Orlotti.

Brian Orlotti is a network operator at the Ontario Research and Innovation Optical Network (ORION), a not-for-profit network service provider to the education and research sectors.


  1. Chuck,

    Apropos your ” The agreement is a major coup for the young American NewSpace firm and a sad reminder of Canada’s willingness to support foreign space industries at the expense of its own plentiful and skilled homegrown talent...”

    First: I can’t place a comment of your posting on Facebook. There is no icon for comments.

    Second: With the inconvenience of hurting and upsetting many true Canadians, I, an immigrant of 47 years, and proud member (at SPAR Aerospace) of the first Space Shuttle Remote Manipulator System design team (1975 – 1980) – later re-named Canadarm - am declaring that as far as the space domain (where Canada REALLY excelled), we are a country of backyards, cottages, and hockey. This is why there is nothing left of the space industry, compounded with low-vision and ignorant Canadian governments of the benefit to all Canadians to excel in domains of international relevancy, and Space is one such important domain.

    Andrew Goldenberg

  2. Thank you for the supportive words, Andrew. I wish there were many more with your honesty and courage!




Support our Patreon Page