Relativity Space already has a significant volume of launch contracts on the books – more pre-sales for its Terran 1 rocket than any other launch vehicle in history, in fact, according to CEO and co-founder Tim Ellis. But its latest customer is a key one: The U.S. Department of Defense, which has contracted Relativity Space to launch a payload on its behalf as part of the Defense Innovation Unit (DIU)’s continued efforts to find responsive launch partners capable of sending payloads with a mass between 450 kg and 1,200 kg (roughly 1,000 to 2,650 lbs) to low-Earth orbit.

“It’s a bigger satellite, and there’s a much limited number of companies that can actually launch this spacecraft,” Ellis said in an interview. “[Terran 1’s] three meter payload fairing is unique, among all the US=based companies that can actually launch that payload size, we’re still the only one that actually has the fairing big enough for that scale.”

The DIU has a specific mandate of working with innovative American companies, typically in the earlier stages of their development, and their collaboration is often seen as a stamp of approval that can set up a company for a much deeper DoD relationship going forward. In this case, citing Relativity’s relative maturity and its queue of pre-sold missions, which include a number of non-defense government contracts.

“In this case, there was just a true mission need for this particular spacecraft,” Ellis said. “And it was a good opportunity to work with them as our first DoD customer, to start on-ramping into a broader ecosystem of capabilities that we’re hearing the government wants to see. So it’s all specifically focused on Terran 1, though of course, we now have talked about Terran R, totally independent of this program. It’s a start of a conversation, and we see lots of opportunities to help support national interests across many different places with all the things that we’re building.”

Ellis is referencing Relativity’s newly-unveiled larger payload spacecraft, the Terran R. The 3D printing rocket company debuted its plans for the much larger launch vehicle in February, and it’s tailor-made for delivering satellite constellations to low-Earth orbit – a need that the DoD has expressed plenty of interest in, given its focus on satellite technologies that offer responsive, redundant capabilities to suit shifting needs.

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