3D-printed Rocket Takes Flight

Johnny Wentzel
Relativity Space's rocket setup for launch
Courtesy of Al Jazeera

Aerospace manufacturing startup Relativity Space recently attempted to send their first rocket into orbit. But whether the mission was a success or not really depends on the POV of the observer.

What happened: The mission was the first ever to attempt sending a 3D-printed rocket – dubbed Terran-1 – into orbit before literally falling short of the finish line due to a failure in the stage 2 engine.

  • Rocket manufacturers have used 3D printing to build specific complex engine components for years, but the Terran-1 was composed of over 85 percent 3D-printed material. The company plans to get that number over 95 percent in future missions.

Task failed successfully?

Although Terran-1 didn’t make it all the way into orbit, it did hit a huge milestone of passing through Max Q – the point of peak atmospheric stress on a rocket (and peak emotional stress on the project engineers).

  • Few first-time rocket launches make it to orbit successfully, so Relativity Space can take solace in the fact that they’ve done better than most on their maiden voyage, with loads of data on how to improve upon their designs.

Zoom out: If nothing else, the Terran-1 launch has shown that Relativity Space can build a rocket with fewer individual parts than conventional designs. The company aims to get this down to 1000 total pieces, as if it were an off-the-shelf jigsaw puzzle.

It’s expected that future rockets could be assembled in as little as two months, but we’ve seen a team of grandmas get 1000 pieces together during one episode of The Young and the Restless.

Your move, Relativity Space.