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The Terran 1 rocket takes off at Cape Canaveral in Florida Relativity Space livestream (screenshot)
Lift-off

First ever 3D-printed rocket lifts off from Cape Canaveral but fails to reach orbit

A US company has successfully launched a rocket made of 85% 3D-printed parts but it failed to reach orbit.

THE WORLD’S FIRST 3D-printed rocket launched successfully yesterday, marking a step forward for the California company behind the innovative spacecraft, though it failed to reach orbit.

Billed as less costly to produce and fly, the unmanned Terran 1 rocket launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida at 11.25pm (3.25am Irish time today) but suffered an “anomaly” during second-stage separation as it streamed towards low Earth orbit, according to a livestream broadcast by aerospace startup Relativity Space.

The company did not immediately give further details.

While it failed to reach orbit, yesterday’s launch proved that the rocket — whose mass is 85 percent 3D-printed — could withstand the rigours of lift-off.

The successful launch came on the third attempt. It had originally been scheduled to launch on 8 March but was postponed at the last minute because of propellant temperature issues.

A second attempt on 11 March was scrubbed due to fuel pressure problems.

Had Terran 1 reached low Earth orbit, it would have been the first privately funded vehicle using methane fuel to do so on its first try, according to Relativity.

Terran 1 was not carrying a payload for its first flight, but the rocket will eventually be capable of putting up to 1,250 kilogrammes into low Earth orbit.

The rocket is 110 feet (33.5 metres) tall with a diameter of 7.5 feet (2.2 metres).

85 percent of its mass is 3D-printed with metal alloys, including the nine Aeon 1 engines used in its first stage and the one Aeon Vacuum engine employed in the second.

It is the largest ever 3D-printed object and was made using the world’s largest 3D metal printers, according to the Long Beach-based company.

 

Built in 60 days  

Relativity’s goal is to produce a rocket that is 95 percent 3D-printed.

Terran 1 is powered by engines using liquid oxygen and liquid natural gas — the “propellants of the future,” capable of eventually fueling a voyage to Mars, Relativity says.

SpaceX’s Starship and Vulcan rockets being developed by United Launch Alliance use the same fuel.

Relativity is also building a larger rocket, the Terran R, capable of putting a payload of 20,000 kg into low Earth orbit.

The first launch of a Terran R, which is designed to be fully reusable, is scheduled for next year.

A satellite operator can wait for years for a spot on an Arianespace or SpaceX rocket, and Relativity Space hopes to accelerate the timeline with its 3D-printed rockets.

Relativity said its 3D-printed versions use 100 times fewer parts than traditional rockets and can be built from raw materials in just 60 days.

Relativity has signed commercial launch contracts worth $1.65 billion (€1.5 billion), mostly for the Terran R, according to CEO Tim Ellis, who co-founded the company in 2015.

© AFP 2023 

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