On October 11, 2023, the rocket company Relativity Space and the communication satellite operator Intelsat, announced an agreement to launch multiple satellites on board the future Terran R rocket. The multi-year Launch Services Agreement (LSA) foresees the first launch in 2026.
✍️ We’ve inked a multi-year, multi-launch agreement for #TerranR with @INTELSAT , operator of the largest integrated space and terrestrial network in the world! 🛰️— Relativity Space (@relativityspace) October 11, 2023
Get the full scoop: https://t.co/xZPEVFXJco pic.twitter.com/JwbzWEjnUr
Tim Ellis, Co-Founder and CEO of Relativity Space, commented: “The space industry clearly requires more commercially competitive, diversified, and disruptive launch capacity. Relativity is developing Terran R as a customer-focused reusable launch vehicle to solve this need”. Jean-Luc Froeliger, Intelsat Senior Vice President of Space Systems, praised Relativity’s innovations and anticipated they would bring benefits to Intelsat for many years.
Many details are still unknown. It isn’t known how many launches have been booked and over which period of time. Intelsat also hasn’t disclosed the reason for signing such an ambitious contract. According to some speculation the company might be looking for diversification in its launch options. The heavy-lift market does not see a diverse offer, but demand is increasing. Intelsat’s move may be an attempt at changing this situation.
About Relativity Space
Relativity Space was founded in 2015 by Tim Ellis and Jordan Noone with the aim of using additive manufacturing to build rockets. Their first project was Terran 1, a small methane-fuelled launch vehicle capable of putting 1.3 t into LEO. The first launch attempt took place on March 22, 2023. The first stage performed well, but startup issues with the second stage engine led to a loss of performance and failure to reach orbit.
The company responded by setting even more ambitious goals. Terran 1 was abandoned and the medium-lift Terran R became the first priority. Terran R is intended to have a 23.5 t LEO capacity while allowing first-stage reuse. The first stage will be powered by 13 methalox, gas-generator Aeon-R engines. The second stage will feature a vacuum-optimized version. Relativity has already begun the testing phase of the thrust chamber.
Relativity’s goal is to use innovative techniques, chiefly 3D printing, to offer a powerful and cheap launch vehicle. They aim at the heavy end of the market, launching geostationary satellites and low-orbit mega constellations. They want to satisfy a growing demand that, they point out, still sees competitive offers only from SpaceX.
Terran R is already attracting interest. This latest agreement brings its backlog to a whopping 1.8 billion $. This is a substantial increase from the 1.65 billion $ of April. The launch manifest includes payloads previously scheduled for the canceled Terran 1.
Flights will take place from Cape Canaveral’s Launch Complex 16, already used for Terran 1. The first launch is scheduled for 2026. This date may obviously change, as has already happened in the past. But with hardware already under testing, we can be sure about the company’s resolve.