First 3D-printed rocket fails to reach orbit: achieving this milestone "would have been unprecedented »
Eva Deschamps / March 23, 2023
The first 3D-printed rocket successfully lifted off from Cape Canaveral, Florida, on Wednesday, but failed to reach orbit due to an "anomaly" during second stage separation, according to a live broadcast.
This new setback follows two previous tests cancelled at the last minute due to technical problems. This mission, named "Good luck, have fun", was closely watched, as 3D printed rockets could represent a small revolution in the launch industry.
The Terran 1 rocket, from California-based startup Relativity Space, was to collect data and demonstrate that a 3D printed rocket could withstand the rigors of takeoff and space flight. In total, 85% of the rocket's mass was 3D printed, and the company is targeting 95% in the future.
The main advantage of the technique is that it greatly simplifies the manufacturing process and thus reduces costs.
Terran 1 is 33.5 meters high and just over 2 meters in diameter. Its first stage has nine engines, also 3D printed. Its objective is to be able to place 1250 kg in low earth orbit (small satellites, for example), which makes it a light launcher.
After the separation of the first stage of the rocket, the second stage should have continued its route until reaching the earth orbit, eight minutes after the takeoff. To succeed in this step from the first flight would have been "unprecedented", said Tim Ellis.
The rocket uses methalox as fuel, a mixture of liquid oxygen and liquefied natural gas (essentially methane). If it had succeeded in reaching the orbit, it would be the first rocket using this fuel to do so.
Relativity Space, which promotes the long-term vision of humanity living on multiple planets, argues that this is the "fuel of the future" and the easiest to produce on Mars. United Launch Alliance's (ULA) Vulcan and SpaceX's Starship rockets in development are also expected to use this fuel.