Human WorldSpaceflight

World’s 1st 3D-printed rocket: Beautiful launch, but no joy

World’s 1st 3D-printed rocket launched March 22, but no orbit

Terran 1 – the world’s first 3D-printed rocket – lifted off last night (at just before 11:30 pm ET on March 22, 2023), from Cape Canaveral Space Force Base on Florida’s Atlantic coast. But the rocket failed to achieve orbit. CNN Business reported:

After the first stage of the rocket – the bottommost portion of the rocket that gives the initial thrust at liftoff – expended its fuel, it detached from the rocket’s upper stage. But the engine meant to propel that portion appeared to ignite only briefly, leaving the rocket without enough power to reach orbit.

Good Luck, Have Fun

Relativity Space, a Long Beach, California-based company, designed the two-stage expendable Terran 1 launch vehicle. It was nicknamed “Good Luck, Have Fun.” It was not carrying a client satellite, but, according to Relativity Space, the company’s future rocket launches will carry satellites.

Two prior launches had been attempted earlier this month. But various problems occurred that prevented the launches: cooling the propellant to the correct temperatures, fuel pressure problems, and bad weather.

The rocket was designed to carry a maximum payload of 2,760 pounds (1,250 kg) to low-Earth orbit (LEO) at 115 miles (185 km). The spacecraft was also rated to carry up to 2,000 pounds (900 kg) to higher sun-synchronous orbits.

Most remarkably, the majority of the Terran 1 – 85% of the rocket – was printed. The company claims it can “build” launch vehicles – either the Terran 1 or the reusable Terran R that’s still in development – at a breakneck speed:

Relativity’s Factory of the Future centers on Stargate, the world’s largest metal 3D printers, that created Terran 1, the world’s first 3D-printed rocket, and the first fully reusable, entirely 3D-printed rocket, Terran R, from raw material to flight in 60 days.

The Wall Street Journal even reported the company intends eventually to rival SpaceX.

Last chance to get a moon phase calendar! Only a few left. On sale now.

3D-printed rocket: White rocket, dark blue sky, tall thin poles with red lights on top of them.
The Terran 1 – the world’s 1st 3D-printed rocketship from Relativity Space – awaiting its test flight at Cape Canaveral Space Force Base in Florida. After scrubbed launch attempts on March 8 and 11, the next launch attempt was on March 22. Image via Trevor Mahlmann/ Relativity Space.

Biggest 3D-print job ever (so far)

When you own the world’s largest metal 3D printer, you naturally make the world’s biggest 3D-printed item:

As a two-stage, 110 foot-tall (33 meter), 7.5 foot-wide (2.3 meter), expendable rocket, Terran 1 is the largest 3D-printed object to exist and to attempt orbital flight. Working toward its goal of being 95% 3D-printed, Relativity’s first Terran 1 vehicle is 85% 3D-printed by mass. Terran 1 has nine Aeon engines on its first stage, and one Aeon Vac on its second stage.

The Terran R will, of course, be larger, as it’s intended as a medium-lift vehicle. It is capable of carrying up to 44,092 pounds (20,000 kg) to LEO. Unlike the smaller, expendable Terran 1, both stages of the Terran R will be reusable.

3D-printed rocket: Simpler manufacturing, more reliability

And yes, the engines were 3D-printed too.

Like its structure, all Relativity engines were 3D printed and used liquid oxygen (LOX) and liquid natural gas (LNG), which are not only the best for rocket propulsion, but also for reusability, and the easiest to eventually transition to methane on Mars.

Relativity said the process uses an array of metal alloys designed specifically for 3D printing its rocketship bodies. Using a combination of the latest design and construction technology means the final product has 100 times fewer parts than a conventional spacecraft:

By fusing 3D printing, artificial intelligence, and autonomous robotics, Relativity is printing its rockets’ structure and engines, significantly reducing touch points and lead times, simplifying the supply chain, and increasing overall system reliability.

Fewer moving parts means fewer things can go wrong, so the company aims to simplify the manufacturing process and the final product. Here’s what printing a rocket looks like in action:

Bottom line: Relativity Space launched the world’s first 3D-printed rocket from Cape Canaveral Space Force Base in Florida on March 22, 2023. But the rocket failed to achieve orbit after the first stage of the rocket, having expended its fuel, detached from the rocket’s upper stage.

Via Relativity Space

March 23, 2023
Human World

Like what you read?
Subscribe and receive daily news delivered to your inbox.

Your email address will only be used for EarthSky content. Privacy Policy
Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.

More from 

Dave Adalian

View All