Relativity Space Scrubs Inaugural Terran-1 Rocket Launch

Relativity Space Scrubs Inaugural Terran-1 Rocket Launch

Relativity Space tried hard to launch its innovative Terran-1 rocket today, but in the end it was a no-go because of thermal problems with the propellant. Late this evening they said they will try again on Saturday to launch the “Good Luck, Have Fun” mission.

The Terran-1 rocket is getting a lot of attention because so much of it, 85 percent by mass, is 3D printed. Relativity hopes to raise that to 95 percent for future rockets. The company says by using 3D printing, artificial intelligence, and autonomous robotics, it can create rockets — the structure and engines — from raw material within 60 days.

Terran also uses what is becoming the go-to propellant of liquid methane as fuel and liquid oxygen (LOX) as oxidizer, or methalox.

Many rockets use LOX-kerosene or LOX-liquid hydrogen engines, but interest in methane has grown substantially in recent years. The race is on to see which methalox rocket will be the first to reach orbit. Blue Origin uses methalox for the BE-4 engines that will power its own New Glenn as well as the United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan.  Other methalox rockets include SpaceX’s Starship and Rocket Lab’s Neutron.  All of those are awaiting their first launches. China’s Zhuque-2 also uses methalox, but its inaugural launch failed in December.

Terran-1 is one of the new entrants in the small launch vehicle market. The two-stage rocket can place 1,500 kilograms (3,200 pounds) in sun-synchronous low Earth orbit. The company is planning a larger Terran-R version capable of launching 20,000 kg (44,000 pounds) to LEO.

Today’s launch window from Space Launch Complex 16 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, FL was open for three hours, from 1:00-4:00 pm ET.

Relativity Space’s Terran-1 rocket on the pad at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station awaiting launch, March 8, 2023. Screengrab.

After some initial pauses in the countdown, Relativity was ready to go at 2:00 pm ET.  At T-70 seconds, a hold was called. Initially, the company’s broadcast host said it was because the launch team wanted a last chance to ensure everything was in order, but soon thereafter an automated system aborted the launch because the temperature of the LOX in the rocket’s second stage was out of acceptable limits.

The launch team thought they could fix the problem and still get off before the launch window closed at 4:00 pm ET. A new liftoff time of 3:45 pm ET was set and the countdown resumed. About 15 minutes later, however, launch director Clay Walker announced: “We are scrubbing operations for the day. Thanks for playing.”

They later explained via Twitter that the scrub was due to propellant thermal conditions.

The company plans to try again on Saturday with the same launch window, 1:00-4:00 pm ET.

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