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An Aeon 1 engine undergoes test at a Stennis Space Center test stand.

Rocket startup signs agreement with Stennis Space Center


The first-ever Commercial Space Launch Act (CSLA) agreement between NASA’s John C. Stennis Space Center in Hancock County and a privately funded company has been announced by Tim Ellis, CEO and co-founder of Relativity Space, an orbital launch company.

The Los Angeles-based Relativity has created the world’s largest metal 3D printer to print their own rockets, and launch satellites into space. Mark Cuban is among the company’s investors.

The long-term agreement with NASA grants Relativity exclusive use of the E4 test complex at Stennis to conduct engine testing around-the-clock, develop multiple vertical engine test stands, along with a second and first stage hold-down test stand. Relativity estimates the agreement will save the company up to $30 million in infrastructure costs. Lease payment amount was not available.

“Our partnership with Stennis is an important milestone for Relativity,” said Ellis. “We are an emerging leader in America’s commercial space industry and, as the company moves into its next phase of growth, this agreement, gives us the certainty and flexibility we need to develop our vehicle in the most efficient way possible. Our team and the path-breaking technology they have developed are reimagining the way rockets are built and flown and this partnership will help us make our vision a reality.”

Richard Gilbrech, Stennis Space Center director, said, “Signing of our first CSLA agreement with Relativity Space opens yet another avenue for commercial customers to perform cost-efficient engine testing at Stennis.”

The agreement is for 10 years with a 10-year extension option. The 25-acre E4 complex was originally developed by NASA with multiple test cells to test engines up to several hundred thousand pounds of thrust but is currently unused. Relativity plans to use E4 initially to qualify and acceptance test more than 36 vehicles and 360 engines per year.

Last month, Ellis was selected to serve on the National Space Council’s Users’ Advisory Group, which consists of private, public and non-governmental members involved in space enterprises. The company said  Relativity is the only early-stage commercial space company represented on the UAG and that the 27-year-old Ellis is its youngest member.


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About Lisa Monti