WASHINGTON — Launch provider Relativity Space was awarded its first contract with the Pentagon, the company announced March 15, securing a responsive launch contract through the department’s Defense Innovation Unit.

Relativity Space aims to compete in the growing launch market by offering the first fully 3D-printed rocket — Terran 1. Prior to inking the DoD contract, the firm secured eight launch customers, including a contract with NASA. Founded in 2015, the company expects to launch its first rocket in 2021.

While the company declined to share the value of the contract, a representative noted that the launch is slated to take place in 2023.

“It is an honor to continue to serve the U.S. government and build upon our nation’s leading abilities in space with Relativity’s first DoD satellite launch contract award. The Defense Innovation Unit is a group whose innovative approach aligns with the work we are doing at Relativity to revolutionize the future of aerospace,” CEO and co-founder Tim Ellis said in a statement. “I’m excited for what our teams will accomplish together as we look forward to launching our first DoD payload set.”

The company said the award is part of the Rapid Agile Launch Initiative, managed by the Space and Missile Systems Center’s Launch Enterprise. The effort is meant to help the U.S. military find commercial launch providers that can quickly put small payloads in low Earth orbit. Finding commercial responsive launch providers has been an ongoing concern for the DoD, and the DIU has issued contracts for SMC’s Space Test Program to small launch companies that can help fill that need, such as Rocket Lab and Vox Space.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency has also worked to foster a responsive launch base, kicking off the DARPA Launch Challenge in 2018 to find contractors capable of providing launch services within days of a request. Astra Space — the only company left in the competition — was forced to scrub its launch on the final day of the challenge due to weather, meaning no company was able to successfully complete it.

Nathan Strout covers space, unmanned and intelligence systems for C4ISRNET.

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