If there was a space race to Mars, it is now going to become even more challenging for SpaceX to win it. Brett Tingley writing for space.com, states that Relativity Space and Impulse Space, space companies in California, announced yesterday (July 19) that they will work together to send the first commercial mission to Mars in 2024. This is years before the first possible trip by the more established SpaceX, which has long-term plans to go to Mars in 2030.
Ex SpaceX propulsion engineer could take Musk’s glory
Interestingly Mueller, who leads Impulse Space, one of the companies now collaborating to be the first private company to reach Mars, was a founding member of SpaceX and led its propulsion department from 2014 to 2019. From 2002 to 2014, he was VP of Propulsion Engineering.
SpaceX was the first to develop reusable rockets, will Relativity Space do them better?
Furthermore, Relativity Space stated in a press release that it would launch the mission with its reusable, 3D-printed Terran R rocket, and Impulse Space would put equipment on the surface of Mars with its Mars Cruise Vehicle and Mars Lander.
Elon Musk will have a tough time keeping SpaceX as the market leader in reusable space rockets if Relatively Space can 3D print reusable rockets. Musk should be concerned about the competition. Reusable rockets built by Elon Musk have set the bar high for other NASA contractors. Relativity Space was started in 2015 and has since raised more than $1 billion. The company was one of the first to use metal 3D printers to make the fuselages and engines for its rockets to cut down on supply chain complexity and development time.
Experience vs. haste, will slow and steady win the race to Mars?
According to Gwynne Shotwell, COO of SpaceX, SpaceX has not yet decided on a date for their voyage to Mars. Relativity Space and Impulse Space are aiming for a joint mission in 2024, putting them ahead of Elon Musk’s company and becoming the first private space company to reach Mars. Tingley in Space.com states it is important to remember that neither Relativity Space nor Impulse Space has sent anything into Space yet. To some experts, it may seem a bit foolhardy that the spaceship they plan to launch, called the Terran R, will be sent into space for the first time on the 2024 mission.
Their inexperience at launching spacecraft puts them behind SpaceX, which already has placed over 2,200 Starlink satellites into orbit, and the experience in preparing Starship for the NASA Artemis Mission.
Which private company will become the first to land on Mars?
Will these underdogs steal SpaceX’s thunder and become the first private companies to land on Mars? Just because they are not as well known as SpaceX doesn’t mean they haven’t been getting ready.
It is clear that Relativity Space wants to be a big player in the commercial launch services business. They have been developing their supporting infrastructure and launch facilities at several US Air Force and NASA bases.
Relativity Space is now supported by Impulse Space, started in 2021, and currently employs 40 people. The company wants to offer low-cost and agile last-mile space payload delivery so customers can access any orbit or other planets. The company’s website says it specializes in creating orbital maneuvering vehicles specifically for last-mile payload delivery, like the two vehicles it proposed for the 2024 Mars mission with Relativity Space.
Even though the planned mission in 2024 will be their first, leaders at both companies have said they are confident that this partnership will be able to land a payload on Mars.
This is a big step forward for both Impulse and Relativity and for the whole space industry, which stated in a press release that one of the hardest parts of landing on Mars is the “glide stage,” which involves putting an aeroshell around the lander to protect it during the entry into Mars. With the power of their combined teams, experience, and passion, they hope this historic mission will be the first of many more.
Could there be future synergy between SpaceX and these competitors?
Ellis said in the statement that he thought building a multi-planet future on Mars is only possible if they can get dozens to hundreds of companies to work toward a single goal. It is a considerable challenge, but if they succeed, it will open up more opportunities for people to live on two planets during our lifetimes. Maybe this opens the door for Musk to collaborate? Perhaps these two companies won’t be the only private companies taking the glory if their mission to Mars in 2024 is successful? The bets are on who will collaborate with them?
Impulse Space leader Mueller wants to prove the naysayers wrong
Mueller told the New York Times that getting a spacecraft to land on Mars by 2024 is a huge challenge. He also said that even though many people don’t think the mission will be successful, that’s precisely what the company wants. Mueller told the Times, “We need to do things people think can’t be done.”
Will Elon Musk be bothered by new players in the race to Mars? Leaked Pentagon documents would suggest that there are other plans for Musk’s Starships.
Feature image credit: Concept-image-of-relativity-terran by Relativity Space under CC BY-SA 4.0