Third Time’s a Charm? Relativity Space Tries Again to Launch 3D-Printed Rocket

Third Time’s a Charm? Relativity Space Tries Again to Launch 3D-Printed Rocket

A rocket built primarily from 3D-printed parts could finally take flight today, with Relativity Space targeting a late evening launch from Cape Canaveral in Florida. You can catch the action live right here.

For California-based Relativity Space, the number of the day is three.

Three, as in 3D-printed rocket, and three, as in the third launch attempt of Terran 1. And should the 9.3-metric-ton rocket successfully reach orbit, the company will take claim to three new records: Relativity Space would become the first private company to deliver its own rocket to orbit on its first flight, while Terran 1 would become the first 3D-printed rocket to reach space and become the first methane-fuelled launch vehicle to enter Earth orbit.

Terran 1 will attempt to take off from Launch Complex 16 in Cape Canaveral, Florida, within a three-hour launch window that opens Thursday, March 22, at 1:00 p.m. AEDT. A live feed of the mission, named Good Luck, Have Fun, is available below. Coverage is expected to begin at 12:30 p.m. AEDT.

Relativity tried to launch the 33.53 m-tall rocket on two previous occasions — the first on March 8 and the second on March 11. The foiled first attempt was blamed on propellant temperature issues, while the second, which featured two launch aborts, was attributed to funky data from the stage separation automation and problematic fuel pressure readings in the second stage, “which was only one PSI low,” according to a company tweet.

Relativity Space, founded in 2015 by two former engineers with Blue Origin, claims that Terran 1 is the largest 3D-printed structure ever built. With a dry weight of 9.3 metric tons, the two-stage rocket is 85% 3D-printed by mass. Terran 1 will need to survive the tremendous pressures and vibrations experienced during launch, including the Max-Q stage, the moment when a rocket experiences the greatest aerodynamic stress. For Terran 1, this key moment will arrive one minute and 20 seconds after it leaves the ground.

Nine 3D-printed Aeon engines power the rocket’s booster, while a single 3D-printed Aeon Vac engine powers the second stage. A combination of liquid oxygen and liquid natural gas powers these engines, a mixture that’s “not only the best for rocket propulsion, but also for reusability, and the easiest to eventually transition to methane on Mars,” according to the company.

I’m hoping for the best with this launch, but I’m not optimistic about the outcome, given the experimental nature of the flight. For Relativity Space, a good goal would be to get the rocket off the ground and to treat everything that might happen afterwards as a bonus.