You may soon see a defining moment in 3D printing. Startup Relativity Space expects to launch Terran 1, billed as the largest 3D-printed object to attempt orbital flight, at 1PM Eastern. You can watch Cape Canaveral launch their inaugural “Good Luck Have Fun” mission with a live stream starting at 12 p.m. The missile does not include the customer payload.
Terran 1 isn’t completely 3D-printed, but 85 percent of its mass is—including the hull, nine ion first-stage engines, and the only Aeon Vac second-stage engine. Combined with autonomous robots, the building process theoretically leads to fewer parts, more reliable design, cheaper launches, and faster assembly times. Relativity claims it can build Earth 1 from raw materials in 60 days, up to an exclusive mission costs Just $12 million. The combination of liquid oxygen and liquid natural gas for propulsion also helps long-term reuse efforts. It can carry up to 1,250 kg (2,756 lb) in low Earth orbit, and 700 kg (1,543 lb) in a high-altitude mission.
Relativity is small compared to private spaceflight competitors like Blue Origin, SpaceX and the United Launch Alliance (ULA), but it has enjoyed rapid growth and distinguished reach since it was founded by Tim Ellis and Jordan Noone in 2016. The company has received more than $1.3 billion in funding. in June 2021. Meanwhile, Ellis secured a seat on the National Space Council’s User Advisory Group in 2018. It was the fourth company to gain access to Cape Canaveral’s Launch Complex 16 after Blue Origin, SpaceX and ULA.
Terran 1 is an expendable missile. However, if the launch is successful, it will pave the way for a reusable Terran R medium-duty rocket that is scheduled to reach orbit no later than 2024. The new vehicle is preparing to carry the first commercial mission to Mars (Impulse Space’s Mars Cruise Vehicle). and Mars Lander) and will carry nearly 20 times the payload of Terran 1. Relativity already has contracts for other Terran R missions, including deployment of OneWeb’s second-generation internet satellites. Eventually, Relativity forecasts its methane-using Mars rockets for interplanetary missions.
The challenge, of course, is that other companies aren’t standing still. NASA recently selected Blue Origin’s New Glenn rocket to carry science payloads to Mars, and SpaceX has long-term visions of using its Starship rocket for Mars missions. Relativity’s 3D printing may help keep costs down for potential customers, but it won’t necessarily help a company win business that would have gone to the competition.
Update 3/8 3:33PM ET: Relativity canceled its launch today (March 8) after several delays that included time to thermally adapt its propellant. The company does not have a new take-off date.
All products recommended by Engadget are selected by our editorial team, independently of the parent company. Some of our stories include affiliate links. If you buy something through one of these links, we may earn an affiliate commission. All prices are correct at the time of publication.