27.03.2023 Space FarvestDecrypt Space Startup

Relativity Space launched its first 3D-printed rocket

Writer Samira Joineau
launch 3D printed rocket relativity space
© Relativity Space

Last Wednesday, Relativity Space became the first startup to launch Terran 1, an almost entirely 3D-printed rocket, after two attempts were canceled. This marks a turning point for one of the most promising new space companies.

Relativity Space’s Terran 1, a two-stage expendable rocket, is the largest 3D printed object to exist and to attempt orbital flight. The company’s first Terran 1 vehicle is 85% 3D printed by mass. Launched last Wednesday from Cape Canaveral, Florida, the rocket carried the first metal produced from Relativity’s 3D printing system.

Terran 1 unfortunately failed to reach orbit after the second stage engine ignited only momentarily: the reason for the failure is not clear to this day. 

Although Terran 1 failed to reach orbit, it nevertheless represents an accomplishment for Relativity Space, as Terran 1 successfully endured Max-Q (maximum dynamic pressure) – which actually refers to the moment representing the most stress on the 3D-printed design. This first Relativity’s rocket launch was actually a step towards development of future and more powerful rockets. 

“We successfully made it through Max-Q, the highest stress state on our printed structures. This is the biggest proof point for our novel additive manufacturing approach. Today is a huge win, with many historic firsts. We also progressed through Main Engine Cutoff and Stage Separation” Relativity Space

Relativity Space has used the expendable Terran 1 in order to prove the viability of its larger and heavy-lift Terran R rocket, which is expected to be the biggest company’s revenue. This yet-to-be-launched rocket is entirely made from 3D-printed materials and is hence fully reusable, including its engines, first stage, second stage, and payload fairing. 

Terran R is to provide both commercial and government customers affordable access to space, being in low-Earth orbit (LEO) and beyond. It is planned to offer customers a point-to-point space freighter capable of missions between the Earth, Moon, and Mars. 

The launch of the latter is planned next year, in 2024; in the meantime, Relativity Space will assess Terran 1’s flight data. As market opportunity is rather open at the moment, it would be of interest to Relativity Space to prove a successful launch as soon as possible. In part because legacy companies, such as United Launch Alliance, are months away from launching their next-generation rockets.