Terran 1, world’s first (mostly) 3D-printed rocket lifts off but fails to reach orbit

The mission named ‘Good Luck Have Fun’ needed more of both, but the launch outfit insists it’s a win

The world’s first 3D-printed rocket, Terran 1, blasted off into the sky but failed to make orbit during its maiden voyage on Wednesday.

Terran 1, built by Relativity Space, flew from the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida at 2035 EST (0025 GMT). Plumes of orange and blue flames billowed from the rocket as it ascended on a mission dubbed “Good Luck Have Fun”.

The first few minutes of the flight were fun as the launch vehicle made it all the way to the main engine cutoff and stage 1 separation.

But then its luck ran out and mission control confirmed a flight anomaly occurred when Terran 1 tried to execute its stage 2 separation, leading to propulsion issues that prevented the rocket from reaching the speed required to reach orbital velocity.

Relativity Space downplayed the failure, and said it exceeded key objectives in its first launch anyway.

“That objective was to gather data at Max Q – one of the most demanding phases of the flight – and achieve stage separation,” Arwa Tizani Kelly, technical program manager for the test and launch team at Relativity, said during the launch. “Today’s flight data will be invaluable to our team as we look to further improve our rockets.”

Relativity’s CEO and co-founder Tim Ellis previously explained that Max Q describes the point at which the dynamic pressures and stresses on the rocket peak. Surviving Max Q means the 3D-printed parts used to make Terran 1 are tough enough to withstand flight – but not the whole one it seems.

It’s not clear why the rocket failed to reach orbit, however. “Relativity will share further updates there once they have them,” a spokesperson told The Register. Meanwhile, the company tweeted its Good Luck Have Fun flight was “the biggest proof point for [its] novel additive manufacturing approach.”

Which is one way of looking at it.

“Today is a huge win, with many historic firsts. We also progressed through Main Engine Cutoff and Stage Separation. We will assess flight data and provide public updates over the coming days,” Relativity added.

The startup rocketry outfit also experienced issues trying to launch its Terran 1 rocket. The first attempt on 8 March was scrubbed on 9 March due to “exceeding launch commit criteria limits for propellant thermal conditions on stage 2”. A second attempt on 11 March ended in two aborted flights.

Relativity Space canceled the first try due to a glitch impacting the stage separation automation system. Engineers made a fix and tried again. But the second attempt was scrubbed in the last minute of its launch window because of stage 2 fuel pressure problems.

The March 22 launch was the third attempt at getting off the launchpad.

Around 85 percent of the rocket’s mass is from 3D-printed parts. The craft’s nine Aeon 1 engines, for example, feature printed parts in their combustion chambers, igniters, thrusters, turbopumps, and pressure systems.

Terran 1 did not carry any payloads for its inaugural launch. The company plans to launch small satellite payloads of up to 1,250 kilograms (2,756 lbs) to low-Earth orbit at altitudes of 500 kilometers (310 miles).

Relativity Space is also continuing work on its more advanced, fully reusable 3D-printed Terran R rocket and has inked a deal with OneWeb to send a network of satellites into space. The company hopes to make up to 95 percent of its rockets in-house using 3D-printed components, and to complete the construction of each in just 60 days.

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