Rockets destined for Mars being 3D printed by Inglewood company

INGLEWOOD, Calif. (KABC) -- Tucked away in a nondescript business park in Inglewood sits the future of space travel.

As it stands today, building a rocket takes between 12 to 18 months and consists of more than 100,000 individual parts. Relativity Space has managed to cut that lead time to just two months, building a rocket made up of fewer than 1,000 parts.

How do they do it? They're 3D printing the entire rocket.

"We were pretty happy that we could actually print something this big," says Tim Ellis, the CEO and co-founder of Relativity Space.

It's a reality that was virtually unthinkable until recently. In fact, the company was only dreamed up two-and-a-half years ago, and it took off.

"We actually emailed Mark Cuban to get our first funding," Ellis says. "It was a cold email, like two weeks after saying we're starting the company, and he replied back within five minutes and said 'Alright, here's half a million dollars,' and then we were off."

They have since raised $45 million, partnered with NASA, and built the largest 3D metal printer in the world, which has lovingly been nicknamed Stargate.

"Think Westworld but for rockets," Ellis says with a chuckle. "So it's that kind of industrial robotics, printing machine that can then make this type of piece really, really quickly."

And now, the most amazing part isn't what they're building, but where they'll be building it.

"Our long term vision is to 3D print the first rocket made on Mars."

Rather than trying to use the same rocket that took you to Mars, you'd be able to travel to Mars and 3D print your own ride home.

Their timetable is incredibly short. Right now the company is shopping for a launch site.

They'll be testing, for the first time in history, the combination of a 3D printed engine with a 3D printed fuel tank at NASA's Stennis Space Center in Mississippi in 2019 with an actual launch to Mars scheduled for late 2020.

For that flight, they'll have to bring the printing materials with them, metal that comes either in powder form or in long spools, but the hope is that Mars can eventually be mined for raw materials to build a rocket from Martian metals.

"Hopefully," Ellis says, "we can inspire a Caterpillar or other companies to then invest in going on this mission along with us."

Until then, the future is most definitely now, and human travel to Mars is being re-written before our very eyes.

"People will look back and say this was the first place that something totally new happened that actually changed the way we look at space and accessing space," Ellis said.
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