For the first time, a 3D printed rocket will attempt to take off
Sylvie Claire / March 11, 2023
A 3D-printed rocket is set to take off for the first time Saturday from Cape Canaveral, Florida, on an inaugural flight that, if successful, could help revolutionize the launch industry.
The rocket, called Terran 1, is developed by the company Relativity Space. The window of shooting extends from 13H00 to 16H00 local.
The aim of this first test flight is to prove that the machine can resist the pressure of a takeoff, and to recover a maximum of data for the further development of these rockets, less expensive and easier to manufacture, according to the company.
In total, 85% of the rocket's mass has been 3D printed, and the company is aiming for 95% in the future.
The benefits are many: reducing costs and simplifying the manufacturing process, while offering greater flexibility. With its large 3D printing robots, the company claims to divide the number of parts by 100 compared to a traditional rocket. It also highlights the speed of the method: 60 days, from raw material to finished product.
The Terran 1 rocket is 33.5 meters high, with a diameter of just over 2 meters. Its first stage has nine engines, also 3D printed, and its second stage has one engine.
A first launch attempt was cancelled at the last minute on Wednesday due to a technical problem.
It uses methalox as fuel, a mixture of liquid oxygen and liquefied natural gas (essentially methane). If it succeeds in reaching Earth orbit on Saturday, it would be the first rocket using this fuel to do so.
Relativity Space, whose long-term vision is to participate in the development of a multi-planetary humanity, argues that this is the fuel "of the future", and the easiest to produce on Mars.
United Launch Alliance's Vulcan and SpaceX's Starship rockets in development are also to use this fuel.
The Terran 1 rocket must be capable of placing 1,250 kg in low earth orbit. But this first flight does not contain a payload.
Relativity Space is also developing a larger rocket, Terran R, capable of carrying 20,000 kg to low earth orbit. A launch date is not expected before 2024.
The Long Beach-based company has already signed $1.65 billion in contracts, according to Tim Ellis, the young boss of the company, which he co-founded in 2015.
The majority of these contracts are for the larger Terran R rocket. One of them is with the company OneWeb, which wants to provide Internet access from space through a constellation of satellites.
This type of rocket "medium-heavy is clearly where the biggest market opportunity lies for the rest of the decade, with a huge shortage right now in this payload class," Tim Ellis had tweeted Tuesday.
A satellite operator can wait years to get a seat on the big rockets of Arianespace or SpaceX. Dozens of start-ups have entered the small and medium-sized rocket market in recent years to meet the demand.