Elon Musk's friend and a top SpaceX engineer has left the company to join a fast-growing rival rocket startup

Elon Musk's friend and a top SpaceX engineer has left the company to join a fast-growing rival rocket startup

Business Insider·2020-05-21 00:05

A startup that hopes to 3D-print entire orbital-class rockets has picked off a top engineer from SpaceX.Zach Dunn, the now former senior vice president of production and launch for SpaceX, started out as an intern at the rocket company 13 years ago and most recently reported to founder Elon Musk. But as of June 8, Dunn — whom Musk considers a friend — will start his new job at Relativity Space."Zach made a significant contribution to SpaceX," Musk tweeted on Monday. "I wish him well as he tries something new."Zach Dunn.Zachary Dunn/Relativity SpaceRelativity Space is a venture-capital-backed rocket company founded in 2015 by Jordan Noone and Tim Ellis, who are former employees of SpaceX and Blue Origin (Jeff Bezos' rocket company), respectively. The startup has already secured a launch site in Florida and raised more than $184 million, according to PitchBook. Its backers include former Walt Disney executive Michael Ovitz and Jared Leto, the "30 Seconds to Mars" rock star and actor.The company's first big goal is to 3D-print a rocket within 60 days of a customer's order, then use it to launch a payload into orbit.That rocket, called Terran 1, will stand about 95 feet tall, have 10 engines, and be capable of launching a small to medium-size satellite or other payload into space for about $10 million. The largest size that a payload can be is about 2,750 pounds (1,250 kilograms), or about one Fiat 500 hatchback's worth of mass.Relativity says the typical lead time for ordering a launch vehicle is about 12 to 18 months, and that Terran 1 will decrease the complexity of a rocket by having 99% fewer parts, since they can be seamlessly integrated into a larger part using proprietary "Stargate" 3D printers.Relativity Space's rocket factory.Relativity SpaceTo create such an unprecedented capability, Relativity needs a mastermind to build out and run its "factory of the future" — a 120,000-square-foot facility in Long Beach, California.The company announced this week Dunn would be that person."Zach brings immense creativity, audacity, and leadership to a critical piece of Relativity's company vision. He will be instrumental in our goal of developing the factory of the future using large-scale 3D printing," Ellis said in statement emailed to Business Insider.Relativity knew of Dunn's accomplishments at SpaceX and that he rose through the ranks at the company."What wasn't he involved in? At each opportunity Zach would gravitate toward the hardest engineering problems our industry had to offer, and demonstrated success each and every time," Ellis said. "In an organization with some of the very best engineers in the world, this is a feat worth recognizing and we are confident Zach will bring the same success to our 3D printing factory."Dunn will lead a new division at Relativity called factory development, which a spokesperson said combines two preexisting engineering teams: the launch vehicle development group and the avionics and integrated-software group.Relativity hopes to launch Terran 1 for the first time in 2021 from an old military launch site Cape Canaveral, Florida.An illustration of a Terran 1 rocket by Relativity Space launching from the US Air Force's Launch Complex 16 in Cape Canaveral, Florida.Relativity SpaceRelativity is a competitor for SpaceX's small-launch business, which the latter company announced in 2019.However, Ellis previously said Relativity hoped its 3D-printing technologies would one day join SpaceX on flights to Mars aboard Starship, a towering new vehicle Musk's rocket company is developing, building, and testing at the southern tip of Texas."What do you need to make on another planet? We think there needs to be another company focused on this piece of the puzzle," Ellis told Business Insider in 2018. "I would love to launch our factory to Mars and then figure out how to scale and sustain that society very quickly."

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