Los Angeles 3D printed rocket company Relativity Space is getting closer to a Summer launch as promised by its VP of Business Development Joshua Brost during this year’s Additive Manufacturing Strategies (AMS) event. Ahead of its demo launch, the company has announced that all hardware, including Stage 1 and Stage 2, for Terran 1 small-lift launch vehicle arrived at Launch Complex 16 (LC-16), the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station pad in Florida operated by Relativity Space.
Terran 1’s two stages reached Cape Canaveral after a cross-country trek. Both flight stages made their way to the sunshine state from the firm’s current Long Beach, California headquarters to prepare for the demo launch, which has been assigned the mission name “Good Luck, Have Fun” (GLHF).
Company co-founder and CEO Tim Ellis revealed the news on June 6, 2022, on social media, explaining that the 115-foot Terran 1 is, by far, the largest metal 3D printed product ever made and that he is “stoked” for the upcoming testing ahead of launch.
This milestone is significant in many ways. This is primarily because Terran 1’s launch will mark the world’s first entirely 3D printed rocket to go to space and because GLFH will be the first launch from LC-16 since March 21, 1988. The site was one of four launch complexes built-in support of Titan missile testing and previously supported 26 missions, spread between Titan I, Titan II, and Pershing launch vehicles. However, in the wake of the Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty with the U.S.S.R., Launch Complex 16 was abandoned until 2019, when the Air Force turned it over to Relativity Space.
For months, Ellis has reported on the progress of the company’s rockets, engines, and in-house 3D printing manufacturing processes, as well as headway on Relativity’s new one-million-square-foot headquarters in Long Beach, California. That is how we learned that before reaching the Cape Canaveral launch site, Relativity teams completed a successful Mission Duty Cycle (MDC), a full flight length test for the integrated second stage of Terran 1 at NASA’s Stennis Space Center facilities in Mississippi. That means they are done with Stage 2 ground testing until the actual flight to orbit, in what the company considers a huge milestone for all of its teams, including avionics, software, test ops, propulsion, and additive.
Additionally, Relativity completed the acceptance testing for all nine Aeon 1 engines to power Terran 1’s first stage. Like the other engines in Relativity’s portfolio, Aeon 1 is 3D printed, enhancing mission reliability by reducing part count in engine combustion chambers, igniters, turbopumps, reaction control thrusters, and vehicle pressurization systems. Moreover, all Aeon engines use so-called “propellants of the future,” that is, liquid oxygen and liquid natural gas, which the company says are best for rocket propulsion and easier to eventually make on Mars – where Relativity envisions an upgraded industrial base as one of its long term goals.
To learn and improve at an exponential pace, Relativity realized from the get-go that it needed 3D printing technology to speed up rocket production and catch up to other firms in the industry, namely SpaceX and Blue Origin. That is why the company prints 24 hours a day, resulting in what it describes as “unprecedented iteration and innovation.” Relativity headquarters are equipped with direct-to-metal laser sintering (DMLS) printers as well as dozens of the company’s proprietary Stargate 3D printers, the largest metal 3D printers in the world. With upcoming software changes, Relativity’s Stargate printers can print both Terran 1, the world’s first entirely 3D printed launch vehicle, and the fully reusable, altogether 3D printed rocket, Terran R.
To accelerate innovation in the industry, Relativity built what it calls the Factory of the Future, the first aerospace platform to automate rocket manufacturing, vertically integrating intelligent robotics, software, and data-driven 3D printing technology. Centered on Stargate, Relativity’s Factory of the Future is disrupting 60 years of aerospace through its radically simplified supply chain, which allows the company to print its rockets with 100 times fewer parts in less than 60 days.
Due to its novel use of automation, Relativity’s Factory of the Future was operational during Covid-19, working safely with key Stargate operators and keeping the company on track for the Summer launch of Terran 1. Relativity’s Stargate 3D printers continuously optimize production by incorporating AI-driven controls, resulting in exponentially compounded quality and time improvements, lower costs, and product designs not possible in traditional aerospace manufacturing.
Created in Relativity’s Factory of the Future, Terran 1 is designed for the future of constellation deployment and resupply. It is built using two types of 3D printing to produce over 90% of its dry mass. Its large format, proprietary 3D printing process, Stargate, can create primary and secondary structures for Terran 1 from a proprietary aluminum alloy – with printing, inspection, and the little post-processing required occurring all in a single print cell. Relativity then uses DMLS to produce geometrically small, high fidelity components for Terran 1. As the world’s first 3D printed rocket makes its way to space, it will be exciting to follow its journey as it lifts off for the first time in 2022.
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