Nicknamed “Good Luck, Have Fun,” the rocket, made of a metal-aluminium alloy, was designed as a low-cost launch pad.
A 3D-printed rocket built by California-based startup Relativity Space was set to launch into orbit for the first time on Wednesday in a key test of the U.S. company’s new strategy to cut production costs.
The 35-foot-tall Terran 1 rocket, 85 percent 3D-printed, was scheduled to lift off from a U.S. Space Force launch pad in Cape Canaveral, Florida, at 1 p.m. Eastern Time. (18:00 GMT) on Wednesday.
“The launch we’re gearing up for is an opportunity to demonstrate a lot of things at once,” said Josh Brost, Relativity Space’s senior vice president of revenue. He called the Terran 1 “by far the largest 3D-printed construct ever put together”.
The rocket – nicknamed GLHF for “Good Luck, Have Fun” – will not carry a commercial payload, as it is an inaugural flight, but will instead carry a failed 3D-printed rocket component from an earlier craft-building effort . It has taken the company seven years to get to this launch and success is not guaranteed. No commercial company has managed to achieve orbit on the first attempt.
Relativity Space is also the first company to attempt to launch a printed rocket.
Widely used in a variety of industries, the 3D printing process involves machines that autonomously “print” successive layers of soft, liquid, or powdered materials that are quickly hardened or fused to form solid, three-dimensional objects. Designs of the objects are scanned from digital blueprints.
Relativity Space, one of the few U.S. rocket startups competing to meet growing demand for low-cost launch services, has bet on the cost savings it expects to achieve by using giant, robotic 3D printers to simplify its rocket production lines. Most of its rivals have focused on cutting costs by building rockets designed to be reusable, such as the Falcon 9 boosters produced by Elon Musk’s SpaceX.
Using 3D printers, Brost said, will allow Relativity Space to speed up many of its manufacturing processes and more easily make changes to improve the rocket’s design if necessary after it has flown, eliminating a complex supply chain is needed that would otherwise delay missile improvements. .
While the expendable Terran 1 is built to carry 2,755 pounds (1,250 kg) of satellites to Low Earth Orbit (LEO), declining demand for that class of launch vehicle has led Relativity Space to develop a larger, 3D-printed reusable rocket – the Terran R – that it expects to fly in 2024.
Currently, demand is being driven by so-called megaconstellation plans from companies like SpaceX, OneWeb, and Jeff Bezos’ Amazon to deploy tens of thousands of Internet-beaming satellites to LEO over the next few years.
SpaceX is flying its own heavy rockets to get its Starlink network into orbit, while OneWeb and Amazon plan to use similar large rockets from different launch companies for their own satellites. OneWeb will launch its next-generation satellites on Relativity Space’s Terran R, the companies announced last year.
Relativity Space, headquartered in Long Beach, California, has won approximately $1.65 billion in launch contracts for both rockets, with most of that revenue attributable to the larger Terran R.
While market demand for rockets like Terran 1 has weakened, Brost said the rocket’s upcoming flights will show how Terran R is designed.
Asked if Relativity Space is still selling Terran 1 to customers, Brost said the company continues to “talk to people about both vehicles.”