Postponement of an attempt to launch the first 3D printed rocket

Postponement of an attempt to launch the first rocket printed in 3D


The launch of the first 3D-printed rocket, scheduled for Saturday at Cape Canaveral in Florida, has been postponed again due to technical problems, but the craft appears to be “in good condition”, said its manufacturer. 

This maiden flight was highly scrutinized, as it could, if successful, help revolutionize the launch industry.

The rocket, called Terran 1, is developed by the company Relativity Space. The firing window extended from 1:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m., but, after several attempts, the take-off was postponed.

The engines of the unmanned rocket were in the process of firing when an “automation” problem forced the company to abort the takeoff. A reattempt took place soon after, but the launch was aborted again due to pressure issues on the rocket's second stage, the company tweeted.

“The team gave themselves flat out today and we'll do the same on the next attempt. More information to come on the new launch date”, she wrote, after assuring that “based on an initial analysis of the data, the vehicle is in good condition”.

During the firing window, the countdown was also paused when a private boat entered the safety zone.

A first launch attempt on Wednesday had already been canceled at the last minute due to a technical problem.

The purpose of the first test flight is to prove that the machine can withstand the pressure of a take-off, and to recover as much data as possible for further development of these rockets, which are cheaper and easier to manufacture, according to the company.

In total, 85% of the rocket's mass was 3D printed, and the company is aiming for 95% in the future.

The advantages are multiple: 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 tall, with a diameter of just over 2 meters. Its first stage has nine engines, also 3D printed, and its second stage has one engine.

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, which has a long-term vision of participating in the development of a multiplanetary humanity, argues that it 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 must also use this fuel.

The Terran 1 rocket must be capable of placing 1,250 kg into low Earth orbit. But this first flight contains no payload.

Relativity Space is also developing a larger rocket, Terran R, capable of carrying 20,000 kg to low orbit. A launch date isn't expected before 2024.

The Long Beach-based company has already signed $1.65 billion in contracts, according to junior CEO Tim Ellis. company, which he co-founded in 2015.

The majority of these contracts relate to the largest rocket Terran R. One of them was passed with the company OneWeb, which wants to provide a internet access from space through a constellation of satellites.

This type of “medium-heavy” rocket is clearly where the most significant market opportunity is for the rest of the decade, with a there is currently a huge shortage in this class of payload,” Tim Ellis tweeted on Tuesday.

A satellite operator can wait years before getting a place in the big rockets of Arianespace or SpaceX. Dozens of start-ups have entered the small and medium rocket market in recent years to meet the demand.