Update: The Terran 1 rocket did not launch on March 8 due to a fuel temperature issue, and Relativity Space is expected to post a new launch date soon.
The first 3D-printed rocket prepares for liftoff. The Terran 1 rocket, built by US aerospace company Relativity Space, will launch from Cape Canaveral in Florida on March 8.
“Terran 1 will be the largest 3D-printed object to attempt orbital flight,” a Relativity Space representative said in a statement. The rocket is about 35 meters tall, making it one of the smallest orbital rockets in the industry, and 85 percent of its mass is 3D printed. It is designed to lift up to 1,250 kilograms into low-Earth orbit, and the company charges $12 million per flight. By comparison, SpaceX’s ubiquitous Falcon 9 rocket can put more than 50,000 pounds into orbit and costs about $67 million per flight.
Terran 1 is totally expendable and for this first test flight it will have no payload; if the rocket reaches space, the flight will be considered a success. The company opted to skip one last planned test of the rocket, a static fire, in which the rocket engines ignite while the rocket is secured to the ground, and go directly to launch.
“By not completing static firing, we accept the higher probability of an abort on our first launch attempt, but if all systems are nominally working, we would prefer to launch and launch during our next operation than continue to use the vehicle through further testing at the land,” said the firm’s representative. The rocket and each of its engines quickly went through a barrage of tests to get here, and one more test could cause more wear and tear than it’s worth.
Relativity Space’s stated goal is to facilitate an industrial society on Mars, and Terran 1 is too small to get there. While it is designed to launch small satellites into orbit, its primary purpose is to be a smaller-scale prototype for the company’s 66-meter-tall Terran R rocket, which the company intends to launch for the first time in 2024.
Terran R is planned to be fully reusable, mostly 3D printed, and capable of carrying up to 20,000 kilograms into orbit. In addition to launching larger satellites into Earth orbit, the Relativity website says that the Terran R “will eventually offer customers a point-to-point space freighter capable of Earth-Moon-Mars missions.”
“That’s the vehicle customers need,” said the Relativity representative. “Terran 1 is our pioneer, our development platform to get to Terran R.”