When Perseverance arrives on Mars early next year, it will be the first landfall for a rover carrying 3D-printed metal parts and a small victory for proponents of the technique in the high-cost, high-risk world of the U.S. aerospace program.

NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, nestled in the foothills of La Cañada Flintridge, has seen a slow cultural shift over the last decade toward the adoption of 3D printing techniques, more formally known as "additive manufacturing," in spacecraft design. The technology uses lasers to melt metal powder that is layered to precise computer modeling, until that metal takes the shape of whatever engineers need.

For years, 3D printing has been relegated to the realm of nerdy hobbyists, but its adoption by startups and big business has helped push NASA leaders toward accepting more innovation despite the risks. These days, 3D printing has been used on airplane engines, houses, hearing aids, chocolates, Tesla car components and even a pair of Adidas shoes.

"I have seen a 3D printed burrito, and it didn't look as delicious as Chipotle," said Scott Roberts, a JPL materials technologist, with a laugh.

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Relativity Space co-founder Tim Ellis said Thursday that he expects that 20,000 satellites will launch in the next five years, representing a $25 billion market for the 3D rocket printer to compete in.

The company, which recently announced it is moving into a new headquarters complex in Long Beach, is currently building its first rocket, which is expected to launch next year. His goal is to make the company a strong competitor in the $350 billion space economy against bigger rivals like Space X and Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin.

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Space City – Long Beach?

The oceanside city, known by tourists as the home of the Queen Mary, scored another win as it competes with Houston and Cape Canaveral as a hub for the new privately-led space race. Relativity Space, a five-year-old rocket maker, is opening a new 120,000 square foot manufacturing facility in Long Beach that bolsters the city's economic ambitions.

Relativity joins Virgin Orbit, Google-backed SpinLaunch, and others that established headquarters in Long Beach. Relativity's Friday announcement that its relocating from Los Angeles is another step in reviving the city's reputation as an aerospace hub.

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