World’s first 3D-printed rocket blasts off successfully on ‘Good Luck, Have Fun’ mission
The world's first 3D-printed rocket launched successfully on Wednesday, proving that the vessel can withstand the intense pressure and heat of lift-off.
A HISTORIC MAIDEN FLIGHT 🚀
WATCH: Relativity Space launches the unmanned Terran 1, the first 3D-printed rocket, from Launch Complex 16 in Cape Canaveral, Florida. | 🎥: NASA Space Flight
READ: https://t.co/C0yEiwgquz pic.twitter.com/b1LmKvhpfp
— Inquirer (@inquirerdotnet) March 23, 2023
The achievement marks a step forward for Relativity Space, the California startup behind the innovative spacecraft, even though the rocket eventually failed to reach orbit.
Billed as less costly to produce and fly, the unmanned Terran 1 rocket launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida, at 11:25pm (03.25 GMT Thursday) but suffered an "anomaly" during second-stage separation as it streamed towards low Earth orbit, according to a livestream broadcast by Relativity Space.
The company did not immediately give further details.
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 cancelled due to fuel pressure problems.
The mission, nicknamed “Good Luck, Have Fun”, carried what the company described as a prototype vehicle, along with a hunk of metal - the first object printed by Relativity’s massive 3D printer - as a commemorative token.
It was not carrying a client satellite, as will be the case with the company’s future rocket launches.
Had Terran 1 - whose mass is 85 per cent 3D-printed - 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 the company.
Terran 1 was not carrying a payload for its first flight, but the rocket will eventually be capable of putting up to 2,755lbs (1,250kg) into low Earth orbit.
The rocket is 110ft (33.5m) tall with a diameter of 7.5ft (2.2m).
Eighty-five per cent 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.
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 per cent 3D-printed.
Next stop Mars?
Terran 1 is powered by engines using liquid oxygen and liquid natural gas - the "propellants of the future", capable of eventually fuelling 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 44,000lbs (20,000kg) 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 its chief executive, Tim Ellis, who co-founded the company in 2015.