Relativity's 3D printer. Photo: Relativity Space

Relativity Space, a venture-backed rocket company, just raised $140 million to fund its plan to 3D print its rockets.

Why it matters: The company is working to break into an increasingly crowded launch industry by sending relatively small satellites to orbit. This funding round puts Relativity on track to launch its first rocket — called Terran 1 — by 2021.

The state of play: 5 new investors and a number of previous funders are now backing the company, which has so far announced a handful of commercial customers for rides to space aboard Terran-1.

  • Relativity hopes to be able to 3D print rockets in 60 days and tailor them to the specific needs of their small and medium satellite customers.

But, but, but: While the funding round is expected to help Relativity get up and running, the long-term sustainability for small satellite launchers is still very much an open question.

  • Dozens of companies are still working to get their rockets flying, and it's not yet clear which companies will end up coming out ahead in the burgeoning industry.
  • "The business plans of a lot of these companies launching satellites is untested and is largely driven by venture funding, which is typically focused on high-risk and high-reward opportunities," Manny Shar, head of analytics for Bryce Space and Technology, told Axios via email.
  • "The potential for failure is significant, while the potential for success is largely unproven."

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