Rocket startup Relativity Space has announced the first major customer to use its 3D-printed spacecraft for launching small satellites.
Canadian satellite operator Telesat, which plans to loft 100 to 500 orbiting craft that would offer Internet service from space, will rely partly on Relativity launches starting in 2021, the companies said on Friday. Financial terms were not disclosed.
While typical rockets, from those made by aerospace contractors like Boeing (BA) to more more established startups like SpaceX, can take more than a year to build and require 100,000 individual parts, Relativity’s huge 3D-printers can build a craft in just two months with only 1,000 parts. That makes the rockets quick and cheaper to deploy—just $10 million per launch—and easier to customize.
Relativity CEO Tim Ellis, an aerospace engineer by training, said the deal marked the first time a major satellite operator has selected one of the new, smaller launch players. “We’re reserving multiple launch slots in our (schedule) to support their constellation,” Ellis tells Fortune, disclosing that the startup would set aside some of its planned rocket launches in future years to carry Telesat satellites.
The company’s Terran 1 rocket can carry just 1,250 kilograms per launch, a fraction of the weight of a traditional communications satellite, but powerful enough to carry several small satellites needed for Telesat’s Internet service. Some of the early funding for the company came from entrepreneur Mark Cuban, but it has since raised a total of $45 million of venture capital.
Telesat is also relying on a more established launch company, Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin, for some of its launches.
In addition to working with launch companies “who we know well,” Telesat also wanted to “include New Space companies whose technologies and manufacturing methods offer lower costs and greater flexibility for deploying our constellation,” chief technical officer Dave Wendling said in a statement.
The deal also brings together two players who are each in crowded and competitive markets. In addition to SpaceX and Blue Origin, Relativity competes with other startup rocket companies like Rocket Lab and SpaceForest. The Internet-from-space race is even more crowded, with Telesat facing planned projects from SpaceX, OneWeb and a number of small startups. On Thursday, Amazon (AMZN) confirmed it was joining the race, with a plan to launch more than 3,000 satellites to offer global broadband service.