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Third time’s a charm for Relativity’s 3D printed Terran 1 rocket

GLHF (Good Luck Have Fun) mission cleared Max Q (but failed to reach orbit) on its first try

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It has been a long time coming for those of us that have followed Relativity Space since the very start and that time has finally arrived. After two attempts canceled at the last moment, Relativity’s entirely 3D printed (stages and engines) Terran 1 rocket took off successfully on its “GLHF” (Good Luck, Have Fun) mission, from Launch Complex 16 in Cape Canaveral, Florida. The rocket, powered by super-chilled methane and oxygen, made it through Max Q, the moment of maximum pressure, successfully, showing the world that a fully 3D printed stage one can endure the harshest conditions of an orbital launch.

Relativity’s launch window opened at 2200ET on March 22, 2023. This launch of Terran 1 did not include a customer payload. Standing 110 ft. tall and 7.5 ft. wide, Terran 1 is the tallest 3D printed object ever built and also the largest 3D printed object to ever attempt orbital flight. However, the engines (also fully 3D printed) meant to propel the upper stage into orbit failed to ignite and the rocket did not reach orbit on this mission. Nevertheless, the mission has achieved most of its objectives and will contribute an enormous amount of data to perfect future missions.

As a two-stage, expendable rocket, Terran 1 has nine 3D printed Aeon engines on its first stage and one Aeon Vac on its second stage. Like its structure, all Relativity engines are entirely 3D printed, and use 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.

The moment when Relativity’s Terran 1 hit Max Q

Relativity’s rocket was printed using the Stargate 3D printer. The latest iteration of this first-of-its-kind proprietary manufacturing platform, Stargate 4th Generation metal 3D printers. These printers will underpin both the development and rate production of Terran R, Relativity’s fully reusable, 3D printed rocket that will be capable of launching 20,000 kg to low Earth orbit (LEO).

The newest Stargate printer technology defies traditional printing constraints by moving horizontally as it feeds multiple wires into a single print head to print orbital rockets. Relativity is developing customized software and machine learning techniques to allow these printers to print more complex and significantly larger metal products, with improved print speed and reliability. Stargate 4th Generation printers also radically simplify manufacturing supply chains, as they are capable of printing a rocket with 100x fewer parts in a matter of months.

“Large-scale products that are designed to fly will inevitably be 3D printed,” said Tim Ellis, cofounder and CEO of Relativity Space. “The lighter a product is, the better it performs, and when 3D printing that product, it’s also faster and more cost-effective to produce with each successive improvement. The compounding rate of progress is high, and we are still in the early days of what printing can achieve. We see 3D printing as an automation technology that has the power to change the pace of innovation in manufacturing, which is why we’ve invested in building our own proprietary tech stack from day one. Stargate printers are designed to unlock rapid iteration, which opens up opportunities for innovation in large-scale manufacturing products. What would take traditional aerospace and space manufacturers years to develop and build, will be reduced down to months due to a highly adaptable, scalable, and automated process, made possible through software-driven manufacturing.”

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Davide Sher

Since 2002, Davide has built up extensive experience as a technology journalist, market analyst and consultant for the additive manufacturing industry. Born in Milan, Italy, he spent 12 years in the United States, where he completed his studies at SUNY USB. As a journalist covering the tech and videogame industry for over 10 years, he began covering the AM industry in 2013, first as an international journalist and subsequently as a market analyst, focusing on the additive manufacturing industry and relative vertical markets. In 2016 he co-founded London-based VoxelMatters. Today the company publishes the leading news and insights websites and, as well as VoxelMatters Directory, the largest global directory of companies in the additive manufacturing industry.

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