Marek Cyzio - Flickr

Relativity Space Put a 3D-Printed Rocket in Space

Private companies in the space industry are generating a lot of firsts, and Terran 1 shows interesting possibilities

On Wednesday night, Relativity Space launched Terran 1 for the first time from Launch Complex 16 in Cape Canaveral. The launch came following two previous launch attempts that had to be cancelled. This time conditions and technology aligned unlike earlier attempts that were thwarted by conditions and necessary adjustments to the rocket. 

After a few delays, including one for a boat inside of the safe zone, the Terran 1 launched trailing blue flames as it streaked across the sky, thanks to its 3D-printed Aeon engines that rely on a fuel mixture of liquid oxygen (LOX) and natural gas (LNG). Because of this fuel mixture and the launch being at night, the rocket created a beautiful blue streaking arc across the sky which can be seen on Relativity’s recording of the launch LiveStream and was also captured by many photographers during the launch, including some striking images shared on the company’s Twitter

On this mission, the rocket made it into space, but due to an issue the second stage Aeon Vac engine was unable to ignite, and the rocket failed to make it to orbit. 

The mission was called “GLHF” which stood for “Good Luck, Have Fun” as the main purpose of the mission was to provide a proof of concept for the launching the rocket and gather important information for future iterations of the rocket. The rocket did not contain a customer payload because of the nature of the mission, but it did contain something else of interest. The first piece of metal that the company 3D-printed was included to commemorate the occasion. 

Terran 1 was 85% 3D-printed by mass, and the company intends to make future iterations of the rocket 95% 3D-printed by mass. CEO Tim Ellis started his career as a propulsion engineer working on 3-D printing components for Blue Origin, and there he “…realized that instead of printing just bits and parts of a rocket, that 3D printing was really a completely new approach to manufacture.” On Twitter, Ellis talked about the beginnings of his company seven years ago, when it was just two employees using a co-working space to gather funding and develop their idea that just marked its first major milestone. 

Overall, even though the first launch of Terran 1 did not make it all the way into orbit, the achievement is still impressive, and is another example of what the entrance of private companies into the space industry has allowed for innovation. 

Private companies have provided ways to transport our astronauts back to the International Space Station without relying on Russia, have been reliably launching satellites and other important payloads, have contributed immensely to work to take us back to the moon, and are beginning to look to Mars as well. They have also reignited a public interest in space exploration that faltered after the end of the Space Shuttle Program.

Paige Lambermont is a Research Fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute in the Center for Energy and Environment. She covers the electrical grid, energy regulation, nuclear power issues, and other free-market energy topics. Paige has a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science from American University and a Master’s Degree in Public Administration from the University of Idaho. She is also a Columnist Fellow at Catalyst.
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