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Illustration of a Relativity rocket on Launch Pad LC-16 in Cape Canaveral, Florida. Image: Relativity

Relativity Space, a venture-backed rocket company, has won Air Force approval to launch from Cape Canaveral in Florida in an agreement announced Thursday.

Why it matters: Relativity Space differs from its competitors in that it relies on automated manufacturing to build its launch vehicles, which it hopes will dramatically lower the cost of access to space. It also puts Relativity Space in the company of NASA, SpaceX, United Launch Alliance and Blue Origin for coveted Cape Canaveral real estate.

The details: Relativity Space aims to begin launching payloads into low-Earth orbit as soon as 2020 from launch pad LC-16 at Cape Canaveral, the site of Titan rocket launches in the past along with Gemini and Apollo mission activities.

  • In an interview with Axios, Relativity Space co-founder and CEO Tim Ellis said the company already has over $1 billion in booked launches and that its rocket, Terran 1, will be capable of launching payloads of up to about 2,700 pounds.
  • Ellis said each launch will cost customers about $10 million.
  • "We can serve all of those small satellite customers that maybe don’t fill up our entire satellite ... while also capturing the larger satellite market," Ellis told Axios.

The company has received more than $45 million in venture capital backing from Y Combinator, Mark Cuban, Playground Global and Social Capital, among others. Its management includes former SpaceX, Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin leaders.

What to watch: While SpaceX views reusability as the key to lowering the cost of access to space, Relativity Space is betting on simplifying rocket manufacturing by using 3-D printing. This minimizes parts and cuts manufacturing time, while allowing for flexibility in changing rocket designs, Ellis told Axios.

  • "We are going to see the future happen with this approach," Ellis said. His company aims to hold its first launch in 2020.
  • Relativity Space has its main manufacturing facility in Los Angeles, with a 20-year exclusive use agreement with NASA's Stennis Space Center in Mississippi.

Yes, but: Relativity Space has yet to launch its rocket into space, let alone successfully carry payloads, putting it years behind the other companies operating at Cape Canaveral. It remains to be seen whether this venture-backed space company can make major gains via automated manufacturing — although the Air Force seems to think so.

Go deeper:

Go deeper

Former D.C. Guard alleges Army Generals lied about Jan. 6 response

Members of the National Guard and Capitol police keep a small group of pro-Trump demonstrators away from the Capitol following the insurrection on Jan. 6. Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

A former D.C. National Guard official has alleged that top Army generals "lied" to Congress in their testimony on the U.S. Capitol riot, Politico first reported Monday.

The big picture: Col. Earl Matthews, who was serving on Jan. 6, alleges in a memo that the official version on the military response is "worthy of the best Stalinist or North Korea propagandist" and that the Pentagon inspector general's November report on it features "myriad inaccuracies, false or misleading statements, or examples of faulty analysis."

Toyota to build $1.3 billion U.S. battery plant in North Carolina

The all-electric Toyota bZ4X, the company's first battery-electric vehicle, at the Los Angeles Auto Show in Los Angeles, California on Nov. 17. Photo: Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images

Toyota announced Monday it's investing $1.3 billion to construct an electric vehicle battery "megasite" near Greensboro, North Carolina, set to open in 2025.

Why it matters: Toyota's Prius hybrid won environmental plaudits when it launched in 1997, but it has since lost ground to electric vehicle world leader Tesla, per Axios' Joann Muller. This battery plant will be the first to produce automotive batteries for Toyota in North America.

6 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Congress hunts for shortcut to pass defense funding, debt limit combo

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer returned to his office Monday. Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

The scramble in Congress to pass the National Defense Authorization Act is being complicated by an effort to tie it to a needed hike in the federal debt limit.

Why it matters: The House and Senate are rapidly coming up against a series of deadlines they must address before the end of the year — or risk disrupting crucial military funding and upending the economy. Congressional leaders are now hoping they can knock out both "must-pass" priorities in one, complex swoop.