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3D-printing specialist Relativity Space is attempting its first rocket launch on Wednesday, a mission that marks the most significant test yet of the company’s ambitious manufacturing approach.
The company’s Terran 1 rocket is launching from LC-16, a launchpad at the U.S. Space Force’s facility in Cape Canaveral, Florida. Relativity has a window between 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. ET to launch the mission, or postpone to a later date. The mission is called “Good Luck, Have Fun,” and aims to successfully reach orbit.
After a couple of short delays in the countdown, the company is targeting 2:40 p.m. ET for liftoff.
The company’s Terran 1 rocket stands on its launchpad at LC-16 in Cape Canaveral, Florida ahead of the inaugural launch attempt.
Trevor Mahlmann / Relativity Space
While many space companies utilize 3D-printing, also known as additive manufacturing, Relativity has effectively gone all-in on the approach. The company believes its approach will make building orbital-class rockets much faster than traditional methods, requiring thousands less parts and enabling changes to be made via software. The Long Beach, California-based venture aims to create rockets from raw materials in as little as 60 days.
Terran 1 stands 110 feet high, with nine engines powering the lower first stage, and one engine powering the upper second stage. Its Aeon engines are 3D-printed, with the rocket using liquid oxygen and liquid natural gas as its two fuel types. The company says that 85% of this first Terran 1 rocket was 3D-printed.
Relativity prices Terran 1 at $12 million per launch. It’s designed to carry about 1,250 kilograms to low Earth orbit. That puts Terran 1 in the “medium lift” section of the U.S. launch market, between Rocket Lab’s Electron and SpaceX’s Falcon 9 in both price and capability.
Relativity Space’s 3D-printed rocket Terran 1 sits is rolled out to the launch pad at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in this December 7, 2022 photograph released ahead of its scheduled launch in Cape Canaveral, Florida, March 8, 2023.
Trevor Mahlmann/ | Relativity Space | Reuters
Wednesday’s debut for Terran 1 is not carrying a payload or satellite inside the rocket. The company emphasized the launch represents a prototype.
In a series of tweets before the mission, cofounder and CEO Tim Ellis shared his expectations for the mission: He noted that reaching a milestone of maximum aerodynamic pressure about 80 seconds after liftoff would be a “key inflection” point for proving the company’s technology.
A timelapse of Relativity’s Stargate 3D printer building a rocket fuel tank.
Relativity Space | gif by @thesheetztweetz