With its history of aviation production, Long Beach is also quickly becoming the new center for aerospace manufacturing.
Home to several rocket companies including SpaceX, Virgin Orbit, and Rocket Lab, the city has been dubbed “Space Beach.” A relative newcomer is Relativity Space Inc., which relocated from Inglewood in 2020.
Relativity, founded in 2015, is changing the game of how space rockets are built. Customarily, a rocket could take years, even up to a decade to be built using thousands of parts. Relativity is shifting toward “software-defined manufacturing,” building a rocket, including all its necessary parts, within weeks, using 3D technology - reducing the cost and the number of parts needed.
Relativity’s professionals, who come from the aerospace, 3D printing, and technology industries, have created the world’s first 3D-printed rocket.
Reaching for the Heavens
One such engineer is Long Beach resident Meghan McCarthy, director of manufacturing with Relativity Space since August 2020.
“My grandfather worked at NASA as a program manager throughout the ‘80s-‘90s, so I was always drawn to the space industry,” Meghan said. “I was convinced I was going to be an astrophysicist until my sophomore year in college, when I decided to pivot into a more applications-heavy path through engineering.”
3D technology has been used for years to create individual parts for rockets, but Relativity is taking it further by manufacturing complete and reusable rockets using its enormous Stargate printers.
“[The manufacturing department] is responsible for building, integrating, and testing our launch vehicle’s engines and stages,” Meghan said. “Being in manufacturing, our job is to translate engineering’s intent into something physical and real for production and, eventually, launch.”
Some of Relativity’s major clients include NASA, the U.S. Air Force, and the U.S. Defense Department. Within the last couple of years, per their site, Relativity has brought in nearly $1.2 billion in funding, and added an estimated hundreds of jobs to the city.
Realtors for Mars?
Relativity’s first entirely 3D-printed rocket -- and the largest metal 3D-printed object ever made -- Terran 1, ‘is designed for the future of constellation deployment and resupply,’ according to their site. The name Terran is associated to the StarCraft video game where it is used to reference ‘humans that are descended from survivors of the Long Sleep.’ A fitting tag given Relativity’s ‘audacious vision’ of interplanetary life, including sending people to populate Mars. The Terran 1 rocket is the company’s first launch vehicle, planned for a test launch this year.
For Meghan, the opportunity to be a part of such an innovative company is beyond exciting.
“I really enjoy working with such a diverse group of people,” she said. “Because we are in the middle of the product value chain, we work with just about everyone. Aerospace, especially the new space sector, pulls from all different backgrounds, so it’s been really fulfilling interacting with such a diverse crew of people and perspectives.”
Long Beach Bound
Following high school graduation in Maryland, Meghan attended Harvard University where she earned a Bachelor of Science degree in mechanical engineering in 2015. She went on to study for a Master of Science in astronautical engineering at USC while working full-time for Virgin Orbit as the Vehicle Integration leader.
As for Long Beach, Meghan, “can’t imagine a better place to live.”
“Between Rosie’s dog beach, retro row, and recreation sports on the beach, it has something for everyone. I love the food and coffee scene. We’re also less than 30 minutes away from many of the original aerospace companies like TRW/Northrop, Boeing, and Raytheon. Long Beach is the best city in L.A. [county].”
To Space…. and Beyond
Meghan encourages any student ready to continue the expansion of ‘possibilities for human experience,’ as Relativity’s mission states, to “really tune into” core science classes, STEM clubs, and robotics.
“Even tinkering in your family garage,” she said. “The more hands-on you can be, the more you can apply your theoretical studies. Fortunately, L.A. is a space haven. You can visit spots like the California Science Center to see the space shuttle first-hand, tour Griffith Observatory to get a feel for space observation techniques or reach out to one of the many aerospace companies in the area for an informal tour.”
The future of aerospace is growing right here in Long Beach, in part thanks to the private space sector. Meghan imagines that several companies will be “providing near-constant launch services for satellites, while also pushing the boundaries for human space exploration.”
“I’m excited to see what the new tech-focused companies, like Relativity Space, do for the future of the industry and manufacturing in general,” she said. “I feel lucky to be in such a diverse, authentic city.”