Relativity Space’s 3D Printed Rocket Gets Off the Pad, If Not to Orbit

Relativity Space’s 3D Printed Rocket Gets Off the Pad, If Not to Orbit

The world’s first 3D printed rocket, Relativity Space’s Terran-1, lifted off the launch pad tonight on the third try. Although a second stage anomaly meant it did not reach orbit, company officials were delighted it got as far as it did, passing through the point of maximum aerodynamic pressure, or Max Q.

The company was careful to set expectations with webcast commentators stressing on each of the three launch attempts that Terran-1 is a pathfinder for the larger, reusable Terran-R in development. Simply getting off the launch pad and through Max Q was considered a success, demonstrating that 3D printed rockets are structurally viable. This rocket is 85 percent 3D printed and Relativity’s goal is 95 percent in the future.

The whimsical name they assigned to the mission — Good Luck, Have Fun — conveyed just that.

Like the first two attempts on March 8 and March 11, the countdown wasn’t without drama. Upper level winds and a boat in the restricted zone delayed the launch from 10:00 pm ET to 11:25 pm ET. But in the end, it did lift off and not only made it through Max Q, but all the way to separation of the first and second stages.

Relativity Space’s Terran-1 rocket on the launch pad at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, FL, just before liftoff on March 22, 2023 ET. Screengrab.
Liftoff of Terran-1, March 22, 2023 ET. Screengrab.
Terran-1 after separation of the first and second stages, March 22, 2023 ET. Screengrab.

Whatever happened thereafter is under review, but it did not achieve orbit. As a test launch, no customer payloads were aboard.

Terran-1 uses methane and Liquid Oxygen (LOX) — methalox — as propellant and would have been the first methalox rocket to reach orbit if successful. SpaceX’s Starship and the United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan both use methalox as does a Chinese rocket that failed last year. The race is on to see who will be the first to succeed.

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