Relativity Space Ready to Fly World’s First 3D-Printed Rocket

The Terran 1 rocket on its launchpad in Cape Canaveral, Florida.
Photo: Relativity Space

After securing a launch license, Relativity Space is eager to see its Terran 1 rocket get off the ground. The California-based company opted to skip a final engine test and set a launch date for the inaugural flight of its groundbreaking 3D-printed rocket.

On Wednesday, Relativity Space announced that it had secured its launch license from the Federal Aviation Administration and is ready to blast its Terran 1 rocket into space. Terran 1 is scheduled for launch on March 8 during a three-hour launch window that opens at 1 p.m. ET from Launch Complex 16 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida, according to Relativity Space.

“It’s been a truly wild ride to get to this point, and certainly way harder than I ever imagined going into it—but all the feels from me and our team as we embark on this historic launch,” Tim Ellis, co-founder and chief executive of the company, wrote in a Tweet on Wednesday. “There is a very bright future ahead for Relativity Space.”

The company had been planning on conducting one final test before takeoff, firing the rocket’s first stage engines on the pad. Instead, Relativity Space decided to just go for an orbital launch after weighing the risk of adding more wear and tear to the rocket versus aborting the mission should something go wrong, a company spokesperson told SpaceNews. The spokesperson added that they are confident in the success of the rocket’s test flight.

The mission, aptly titled “Good Luck, Have Fun,” is meant to test the expendable lightweight rocket on its first attempt to reach orbit. Terran 1 is a two-stage, 110-foot-tall (33 meters) rocket that’s 85% 3D printed, making it the “largest 3D printed object to exist and to attempt orbital flight,” according to the company. Relativity Space is working towards its goal of making the rocket 95% 3D printed. The rocket has nine Aeon engines on its first stage and one Aeon Vac on its second stage, and uses liquid oxygen and liquid natural gas as propellant.

Rocket manufacturers have used 3D printing technology to make rocket parts before but never on this scale. The rocket’s debut will put Relativity Space’s proprietary 3D printing process to the test, which uses 3D metal printing, artificial intelligence, and autonomous robotics to create its rockets.

That the rocket will succeed on its inaugural flight is no guarantee, given that Relativity Space has never accomplished this feat, and because it’s attempting to do so with such an experimental rocket. Hopefully, Terran 1 will survive the turbulence and g-forces experienced during take off and not fall to pieces.

Relativity Space may be relatively new in the industry having never reached orbit before but the company already has big plans. Terran 1 won’t be carrying any payloads on its first flight but NASA already signed a contract with Relativity Space to launch a small satellite with the rocket.

The company is also working on the development of Terran R, a fully reusable and entirely 3D-printed launch vehicle capable of launching 20 tons to low Earth orbit (a little less than SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket). Although it hasn’t flown yet, the company has launch contracts worth $1.2 billion for the rocket’s future trips to orbit, according to TechCrunch.

Terran R could also be used to deliver a payload all the way to Mars. Private space venture Impulse Space is hoping to launch its Mars Cruise Vehicle and Mars Lander on board the 3D-printed rocket as early as 2024.

Terran 1’s upcoming test flight will showcase the capabilities of Relativity Space and whether the company’s 3D printed rockets will truly be a game changer.

More: We Can’t Wait for These Futuristic Rockets to Finally Blast Off

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