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Sunday, June 4, 2023

First 3D-printed rocket took flight for the first time but failed

Terran-1 left its launch pad in Cape Canaveral in Florida and powered skyward for a few minutes before falling back to Earth.

An almost fully 3D printed rocket has taken off for the first time.

Terran-1 left the launch pad at Cape Canaveral, Florida and hovered in the sky for several minutes before falling back to Earth.

About 85% of the vehicle, which is 112 feet (34 m) tall, was produced using additive manufacturing (3D printing) techniques.


The aerospace industry uses these processes to make a variety of components, but their application in Terran-1 is on a different scale.

The California-based company Relativity Space, which built the rocket, designed its own machines to produce parts large and small, from tanks to engines.

The company said its ultimate goal was to have more than 95% of the rocket 3D printed.

Items that are currently still manufactured using standard techniques include mainly electronics, computer chips, rubber seals and valves.


Terran-1 lifted off from Complex 16 at Canaveral’s US Space Force Station on Wednesday at 23:25 local time (03:25 GMT Thursday).

Its lower segment, or first stage, burned for just over two and a half minutes. The second stage was then supposed to take over to complete the trip to orbit, but died after a few flashes. The upper part of the rocket would fall into the Atlantic Ocean.

Despite not completing the entire mission, the flight is still a significant achievement for relativity space.

It is not uncommon for the first flight to fail and the company to obtain a large amount of data for future launches.


The first goal set was to pass what is called Max-Q. This is the point at the start of the launch where the aerodynamic pressure and other forces on the vehicle are greatest. Passing this mark confirmed the integrity of the rocket’s 3D printed components.

“This is the biggest testament to our new approach to additive manufacturing,” the company said later on Twitter.

“Today is a huge victory with many historical firsts,” he added. “We have also progressed through the main engine disconnect and stage separation. We will evaluate the flight data and provide public updates in the coming days.”

The launch was also notable because liquid methane was used as fuel. Many other rockets will use it in the future, not least because it burns cleaner than some current propellants such as kerosene.


3D printing – creating the shapes of objects by melting layers of aluminum powders or spheres – makes it possible to create complex designs in one piece, without the need for complex tools.

It also allows rapid iteration of designs if they require updating and reduces waste of raw materials.

Relativity Space reported that Terran-1 had just over 3,000 individual parts and believed that over time this number could drop below 1,000.

In terms of size and performance, Terran-1 is a modest vehicle capable of carrying a one and a quarter ton satellite payload into low Earth orbit. But it’s really just a test prototype.


The company has a much larger rocket it calls the Terran-R on the drawing board, with a 20-ton capacity at a similar height.

Unlike its pathfinder counterpart, the Terran-R will be fully reusable. Both of its parts will be landed back on Earth and reassembled to fly again – much like the Starship system, which will soon launch from industry leader SpaceX.

Terran-R could debut in 2025.

Interest in relativity space and its approach to rockets is considerable.


It has signed more than US$1.2bn (£0.97bn) of future launch commitments with satellite operators.

This includes a deal with London-based satellite broadband provider OneWeb.

The British firm wants to use Terran-R to help get its next generation of spacecraft into orbit.

Massimiliano Ladovaz, CTO of OneWeb, said that the operation in the Relativity space has been very impressive, adding that since rocket rides are at a premium right now, it made sense to consider launch providers outside of the established players.


“Sometimes in this industry you have to make bets, managed bets. Relativity has a solid engineering team that actually has a lot of expertise from people who have formally been at SpaceX,” he said.

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