Relativity’s 3D-printed Terran 1 rocket launches, fails to reach orbit

The Terran 1 rocket launched by the company from Cape Canaveral, Florida’s LC-16.

Relativity Space

Relativity Space is a 3D-printing specialist that launched the first flight of its Terran 1 rocket late Wednesday night. The rocket met some mission objectives but did not reach orbit.

Terran 1 took off from LC-16, a launchpad located at the U.S. Space Force’s facility in Cape Canaveral. It flew for three minutes. While the rocket cleared a key objective — passing the point of maximum atmospheric pressure during an orbital launch, known as Max Q — its engine sputtered and shut down early, shortly after the second stage separated from the first stage, which is the larger, lower portion of the rocket known as the booster.

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Clay Walker, Relativity’s launch director, confirmed that the upper stage was experiencing an “anomaly”. After analyzing flight data, the company stated that it would provide “updates in the coming days”.

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Although the mission failed to reach orbit, it was a significant achievement for the company and demonstrated the viability of its ambitious manufacturing strategy.

While many space companies utilize 3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing, Relativity has effectively gone all-in on the strategy.

It believes that its method will allow for faster building of orbital-class rockets than traditional methods. The process requires thousands of parts and allows software to make changes. The Long Beach-based company aims to build rockets from raw materials within as little time as possible. As little as 60 days

The Terran 1 rocket’s blue flames were visible as it was launched. It is powered by a mixture between liquid methane (or methalox), and liquid oxygen (or methalox).

Relativity Space

Terran 1 is 110 feet tall, with nine engines driving the lower stage and one powering its upper stage. It’s Aeon engines have been 3D-printed. The rocket uses liquid oxygen or liquid natural gas as its fuel type. About 85% of the first Terran 1 rocket were 3D-printed.

Terran 1 is priced by Relativity at $12 million per launch. It is designed to carry 1,250kg to low Earth orbit. Terran 1 is now in the “medium lifting” section of the U.S. rocket market. This puts it between SpaceX’s Falcon 9 or Rocket Lab’s Electron in terms of both price and capabilities.

Relativity stressed that the debut launch was a prototype and did not include a satellite or payload.

Before the first launch attempt, Terran 1 stands on its launchpad at LC-16 Cape Canaveral in Florida.

Trevor Mahlmann/ Relativity Space

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