Relativistic space: The first 3D-printed rocket is about to launch into space

Update: The Terran 1 rocket did not launch on March 8 due to a fuel temperature issue, and Relativity Space is expected to release a new launch date soon.

The first 3D-printed rocket is preparing for takeoff. The Terran 1 rocket, built by US aerospace company Relativity Space, is scheduled to launch from Cape Canaveral, Florida, on March 8.

“Terran 1 will be the largest 3D-printed object ever to attempt orbital flight,” a Relativity Space representative said in a statement. The rocket is about 35 meters high, making it one of the smallest orbital rockets in the industry, and 85 percent of it is 3D-block printed. It is designed to lift up to 1,250 kilograms into low Earth orbit, and the company charges $12 million per flight. By comparison, SpaceX’s ubiquitous Falcon 9 rocket can lift more than 22,000 kilograms into orbit and costs about $67 million per flight.

Earth 1

Satellite Earth 1 from Relativity Space on the launch pad in Florida

Trevor Mahlman / Space Relativity

Earth 1 is fully expendable, and this first test flight will have no payload – if the rocket reaches space, the flight will be considered a success. The company chose to skip another planned test of the rocket—static fire, in which the rocket’s engines are fired while the rocket is mounted on the ground—and go straight to launch.

“By not completing a steady fire, we accept the increased possibility of misfire on our first launch attempt, but if all systems are nominally working, we would prefer to fire it up and fire it up during our next run rather than continue to wear the vehicle through additional testing on a test run,” a company representative said. The missile and each of its engines has gone through a barrage of tests to get here, and one more test will probably cause more wear and tear than it’s worth.

The stated goal of Relativity Space is to facilitate an industrial society on Mars, and Terran 1 is too small to get there. While it is designed to bring small satellites into orbit, its primary purpose is as a smaller prototype for the 66-meter-high Terran R rocket, which the company intends to launch for the first time in 2024.

The Terran R is planned to be fully reusable, mostly 3D printed and capable of carrying up to 20,000 kilograms into orbit. Aside from launching larger satellites into Earth orbit, the Relativity website says the Terran R will “eventually provide customers with a point-to-point space cargo ship capable of missions between the Earth, the Moon, and Mars.”

“This is the car customers need,” said a Relativity representative. “Terran 1 is our Pathfinder, and our development platform to get to Terran R.”


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *