The I-10 rocket region

Boeing is building the heavy-lift Space Launch System rocket in New Orleans,
now Relativity will build 3D printed light launch vehicles 35 miles away at
Stennis Space Center, Miss.

David Tortorano
August 2019

An intriguing cluster is growing along the Interstate 10 corridor between Southeast
Louisiana and South Mississippi. The Stennis-Michoud corridor in the near future will
be where not one but two different launch vehicles will be built – one a heavy-lift
rocket for NASA, and the other a commercial light rocket.

At the Michoud Assembly Facility (MAF) in East New Orleans, Boeing is the prime
contractor for the design, development, test and production of NASA’s Space Launch
System. Boeing workers have been building the 212-foot tall core stage in the
cavernous MAF facility. When operational, the rocket will be used to launch into orbit
space vehicles carrying people and cargo to the moon and Mars.

Newcomer Relativity Space of Los Angeles, in an announcement June 11, said it will
build its Terran 1 rockets at Stennis Space Center (SSC), Miss., using its patented
3D printing technology. It will create 200 jobs and make an investment of $59 million.

Relativity said it secured an agreement with NASA and an incentive package from the
Mississippi Development Authority (MDA) to expand facilities and infrastructure at
SSC, where it is already testing the engine, Aeon 1.

The agreement with NASA includes exclusive use of 220,000 square feet within
building 9101 at SSC for a nine-year lease. The agreement also includes an option
to extend the lease for an additional 10 years.

The facility includes an 80-foot high bay, multiple bridge cranes, and extensive
industrial infrastructure. Relativity’s partnership with the MDA is supported by a
significant cost reimbursement and tax incentive package for Relativity's employment
and capital investments for advanced aerospace manufacturing and technology
development in the state.

Relativity will be building out first stage assembly, engine integration and testing, and
a full 3D printing and robotics-enabled production line at the site. The technologies
developed through Relativity’s Stennis factory site are the first step toward the
company’s long term vision of 3D printing the first rocket made in Mars and
expanding the human experience in space.

With this expansion at SSC, Relativity is increasing infrastructure fourfold to over
280,000 square feet of operations, production, testing, and launch facilities and is on
track to reach over 350,000 square feet of space in 2019. In the past year, the
company increased team size over six times from 14 to 90 employees.

“We believe this groundbreaking technology is the future of aerospace
manufacturing, and we look forward to bringing this innovation to the Gulf Coast,”
said Jordan Noone, CTO and co-founder of Relativity.

“This partnership will foster innovation, investment, and growth in Mississippi,” said
Tobias Duschl, VP of Operations at Relativity. “The integration of our 3D printing
rocket production and testing facilities at one site will also enable Relativity to offer
greater flexibility to commercial and government entities needing faster, more
frequent, and lower cost access to space.”

New kid on the block
Relativity is one of the new kids on the block. The private aerospace manufacturer
was founded in 2015 by Tim Ellis and Noone. The rocket it’s developing is designed
for orbital launch services. Additive manufacturing is used by Relativity because it
uses less tooling and human labor.

In March 2018, Relativity Space signed a 20-year lease with NASA at SSC to test
engine components and eventually test full-scale Aeon 1 engines using the E-3 test
stand. That was followed in January 2019 with the announcement that Relativity won
a competitive bidding process with the United States Air Force to build and operate
Launch Complex 16 (LC-16 at Cape Canaveral. Plans are to launch its first rocket
from the site in 2020. Relativity plans to start commercial launch service by early

Relativity has created the Stargate system, which it calls the world's largest 3D
printer of metals. It’s based on selective laser sintering, which uses laser beams to
bond powdered metal, layer by layer. The company aims to 3D print at least 95
percent of its launchers, including the engines, by the end of 2020. The company
plans to eventually print a complete launch vehicle within 60 days.

Terran 1 is an expendable, two-stage launch vehicle. The first stage will use nine
Aeon 1 engines, while the second stage will use a single, restartable Aeon 1 engine.
The maximum payload will be 2,760 lb to low Earth orbit, or high-altitude payloads of
1,500 lbs.

Some 35 miles away a much bigger rocket is being built for NASA by Boeing at MAF.
It will be the most powerful rocket ever built and will carry much larger payloads. It will
be the world’s only super heavy rocket capable of transporting astronauts to deep
space with landers, habitats and the Gateway elements.

The last of four structural test articles for SLS was loaded onto NASA's Pegasus
barge at MAF on June 26 for delivery of the liquid oxygen (LOX) tank test article to
NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., where structural testing will
be performed.

The LOX tank is one of two propellant tanks in the rocket's core stage that will
produce more than 2 million pounds of thrust to help send Artemis 1, the first flight of
NASA's Orion spacecraft and SLS, to the Moon.

The nearly 70-foot-long test article is structurally identical to the flight version that is
being built. SLS is being developed to send astronauts into deep space.

While the combination of Boeing’s SLS and Relativity’s Terran 1 does not put the
Stennis-Michoud cluster on a level with some of the better-known centers that
produce space vehicles, it’s nonetheless an important indication of possible future
growth for the Southeast Louisiana-Southwest Mississippi portion of the Interstate 10


Q&A, Tobias Duschl
Tobias Duschl, vice president of operations at Relativity Space, replied to submitted
question from Gulf Coast Aerospace Corridor.

Question: How long had Relativity been considering establishing a production facility
at Stennis Space Center (SSC) before the June announcement? Would you be
willing to tell me other areas that were considered?

Tobias Duschl: From the start, we have known that at a minimum, we’d need one
large production facility to meet our short-term production goals. Eventually, we want
to add production to a second site, especially as we expand our product portfolio.
Stennis was in consideration as soon as we found out about the opportunity to
secure an existing facility at the Stennis Space Center. The other area in close
consideration for housing our production is Los Angeles, where our company
headquarters are located.

Q: I know being close to the rocket engine test stands is a plus for Relativity, but what
are some of the other factors that went into the decision to set up shop at SSC?

Duschl: Stennis offers several advantages for us. Since Relativity’s early days, we
have had a great partnership with the NASA administration and share their goals for
progressing space exploration. Relativity is able to leverage valuable existing NASA
infrastructure. The Mississippi Development Authority has also committed a
considerable amount of resources to help us with our expansion at Stennis, including
significant cost reimbursement and tax incentive package for Relativity's employment
and capital investments for advanced aerospace manufacturing and technology
development in the State of Mississippi. Last but not least, Stennis has tremendous
infrastructure that we are able to leverage, and there is a good talent pool for us to
expand operations.

Q: You likely know that the Interstate 10 region between New Orleans and Northwest
Florida has a lot of aerospace activity, including space, aircraft assembly, military
aviation - including pilot training and aerial weapons development - and much more.
Relativity is at the extreme west portion of this corridor. Did the presences of an
aerospace/aviation cluster play any role in your decision to set up production in this

Duschl: Earlier this year, Relativity secured the historic Launch Complex 16 at Cape
Canaveral, our first launch site. As a result, we expect a lot of traffic between our
production and test sites at NASA Stennis and Cape Canaveral. It definitely helps to
have so much aerospace located along this corridor, as we expand operations and
headcount significantly in the coming years.

Q: Will the 3D printer be moved from California or is a new one being built at SSC,
and will it fabricate all of Terran 1?

Duschl: We will be building new printers at Stennis, as we continuously expand our
production capacity and progress our research and development. The printers we
assemble at Stennis will be capable of printing even larger structures, which will
enable us to increase the sizes of rocket components, offering greater flexibility to
commercial and government entities needing faster, more frequent, and lower cost
access to space. Eventually, we will have a full rocket production line in Stennis.

Q: You are likely aware that NASA hopes to establish the 1,100-acre Enterprise Park,
most of which will be outside the badging area of SSC. That sounds a lot like
Exploration Park just outside Kennedy Space Center, which appears to be highly
successful. Do you anticipate having a presence at the SSC's Enterprise Park at
some point? Whether you do or do not, would you expect such a park would appeal
to other space companies or suppliers?

Duschl: The success of such initiatives is closely tied to the available infrastructure,
how well-connected the site is, and the type of talent available in the region. We feel
that Stennis has a great combination of these factors, and as a result, we expect
Enterprise Park to be a success. Towards our goals of running a production line and
test operations at Stennis for the next 20 years (at least), we will definitely consider
expanding into Enterprise Park and hope to attract suppliers there as well.

Q: Relativity thinks way outside the box. So let me look way down the road and ask
you to go out on a limb. What do you think you may be building at SSC 10 years from
now, or even 20.

Duschl: Relativity is developing the first and only aerospace platform to integrate
machine learning, software, and robotics with metal 3D printing technology to build
and launch rockets in days instead of years. At this time, we are applying our 3D
printing technology to rockets, with a vision of building and launching a rocket on
Mars. There is potential to expand our platform to build other aerospace structures.


Major centers for spacecraft production in the U.S.

Not many places in the United States can lay claim to building rockets designed to
send space vehicles into orbit or deep space. Nor are there that many places where
the propulsion systems are built. In the United States, there are multiple areas that
stand out as centers for space activities. The following are some key production

Los Angeles-Hawthorne, Calif. – Hawthorne is Southwest of Los Angeles and
headquarters for SpaceX as well as its rocket factory, which builds the Falcon 9 and
the Dragon space capsule. It plans to open a new factory in San Pedro, a community
within Los Angeles, to build the BFR. It also has a site at Port Canaveral, Fla., to
store and refurbish previously used Falcon 9 rockets. The Los Angeles area has one
of the largest concentrations of aerospace headquarters, facilities and subsidiaries in
the nation, including Boeing, Raytheon, Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman. It’s
also home to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab and the Air Force Space and Missile
Systems Center.

Kennedy Space Center, Fla. – Located along the East Coast of Florida, Kennedy
Space Center is in Cape Canaveral on Merritt Island is NASA’s internationally known
launch site that’s now heavily involved in commercial space production. Boeing, Blue
Origin, SpaceX, OneWeb, Lockheed Martin, Relativity, United Launch Alliance,
Airbus, RUAG Space, and Firefly all have or soon will have a presence on the Space
Coast, much of it in Exploration Park, just outside the KSC badging area. Blue Origin
New Glenn rocket production facility (first stages, second stages, payload fairings),
OneWeb’s satellites plant and Firefly’s production facility for Alpha 2.0 launch vehicle
are all in Exploration Park. RUAG Space, which will build aerospace structures for
Firefly and others, is in Titusville. Boeing is moving its space and launch
headquarters to Titusville. Blue Origin has leased Launch Complex 36 in Cape
Canaveral to build a launch pad for its orbital launch vehicle New Glenn. It will also
have a test stand for the BE-4, and a reusable booster refurbishment facility for New

Huntsville-Decatur, Ala. – These two cities are in North Alabama. Huntsville is home to
NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center and the Army’s Missile Command. It’s home of
NASA’s propulsion office, and in more recent years has been involve in production.
Blue Origin plans to build its cryogenic rocket engine, BE-4, at a facility here, and will
also build a variant of the BE-3. The BE-4, chosen by ULA for the Vulcan Centaur,
which will be tested at MSFC. To the west in Decatur, is 1.6 million square-foot United
Launch Alliance production facility for Atlas V, Delta IV and Vulcan Centaur.

Chandler-Gilbert-Mesa, Ariz. – Southeast of Phoenix in an area called “the Valley” are
three major Orbital ATK facilities: the launch systems group (Chandler), space
systems group (Gilbert) and defense systems group (Mesa). The 47-acre Chandler
campus provides launch vehicles for commercial, civil and government customers,
and it will build Orbital’s new heavyweight rocket, OmegA. Satellite have been built in
Gilbert since 2004. Orbital is now a part of Northrop Grumman.

Iuka, Miss. – In northeast Mississippi not far from the Mississippi-Alabama state line
Orbital ATK (now part of Northrop Grumman) builds composite rocket structures for its
own line of rockets as well as large composite structures for United Launch Alliance’s
Atlas V and Delta IV rockets. Orbital merged with ATK (Alliant Techsystems, which
acquired Thiokol in 2001), before it became part of Northrop Grumman.

New Orleans, La. – In East New Orleans is NASA’s massive Michoud Assembly
Facility, which has been responsible for building large space craft structures for
NASA’s prime contractors since the early days of the space program. Boeing is
building the core stage for NASA’s Space Launch System, and Lockheed
Martin builds Orion at Michoud.

McGregor, Texas – This city in Central Texas, west southwest of Waco and roughly
midway between Austin and Fort Worth, is the rocket engine test facility for SpaceX,
which leases more than 4,000 acres on McGregor’s outskirts. The location is SpaceX’
s third largest in terms of employment. As of the end of 2017, SpaceX ha use of three
leased orbital launch sites: Launch Complex 39A at Kennedy Space Center, Space
Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, both in Florida, and Space
Launch Complex 4E at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. SpaceX is also building a
commercial only launch facility near Brownsville, Texas.

Promontory, Utah – Promontory, known historically as the location of Promontory
Summit, where the first transcontinental railroad was completed, is 66 miles northwest
of Salt Lake City. It is the home of Orbital ATK (Northrop Grumman) Propulsion
Systems Division, which manufactures the five segment solid rocket boosters for
NASA’s Space Launch System. It has more than 2.5 million square feet of production,
administration and test facilities. It also works on non-space products for the U.S.

- Ted Kordecki, research associate
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