First 3D-printed rocket fails to reach orbit
WASHINGTON — The world’s first 3D-printed rocket launched successfully on Wednesday, March 22, marking a step forward for the California company behind the innovative spacecraft, though it failed to reach orbit.
Billed as less costly to produce and fly, the unmanned Terran 1 rocket launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida, at 11:25 pm (0325 GMT Thursday) but suffered an “anomaly” during second-stage separation as it streamed toward low-Earth orbit, according to a livestream broadcast by aerospace startup Relativity Space.
The company did not immediately give further details.
While it failed to reach orbit, Wednesday’s launch proved that the rocket—whose mass is 85-percent 3D-printed—could withstand the rigors of liftoff.
The successful launch came on the third attempt. It had originally been scheduled to launch on March 8 but was postponed at the last minute because of propellant temperature issues.
A second attempt on March 11 was scrubbed due to fuel pressure problems.
Had Terran 1 reached low-Earth orbit, it would have been the first privately funded vehicle using methane fuel to do so on its first try, according to Relativity.
READ: World’s first 3D-printed rocket set for debut flight
Terran 1 was not carrying a payload for its first flight, but the rocket will eventually be capable of putting up to 1,250 kilograms (2,755 pounds) into low-Earth orbit.
The rocket is 33.5 meters (110 feet) tall with a diameter of 2.2 meters (7.5 feet).
Eighty-five percent of its mass is 3D-printed with metal alloys, including the nine Aeon 1 engines used in its first stage and the one Aeon Vacuum engine employed in the second.
Built in 60 days
It is the largest-ever 3D-printed object and was made using the world’s-largest 3D metal printers, according to the Long Beach-based company.
Relativity’s goal is to produce a rocket that is 95-percent 3D-printed.
Terran 1 is powered by engines using liquid oxygen and liquid natural gas—the “propellants of the future,” capable of eventually fueling a voyage to Mars, Relativity says.
SpaceX’s Starship and Vulcan rockets being developed by United Launch Alliance use the same fuel.
Relativity is also building a larger rocket, the Terran R, capable of putting a payload of 20,000 kg (44,000 pounds) into low-Earth orbit.
The first launch of a Terran R, which is designed to be fully reusable, is scheduled for next year.
A satellite operator can wait for years for a spot on an Arianespace or SpaceX rocket, and Relativity Space hopes to accelerate the timeline with its 3D-printed rockets.
Relativity said its 3D-printed versions use 100 times fewer parts than traditional rockets and can be built from raw materials in just 60 days.
Relativity has signed commercial launch contracts worth $1.65 billion, mostly for the Terran R, according to CEO Tim Ellis, who cofounded the company in 2015.
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