Relativity Space's 3D-printed rocket fails to reach orbit, still makes history

"We just completed a major step in proving to the world that 3D-printed rockets are structurally viable".
Chris Young
Terran 1 on the launch pad.
Terran 1 on the launch pad.

Relativity Space / Twitter 

The world's first 3D-printed rocket didn't make it to orbit on its first attempt, but it did survive Max-Q – the part of a launch during which a rocket undergoes the highest stress.

Reaching orbit was never guaranteed. In fact, it would have been a massive bonus. As such, the first launch of Relativity Space's Terran 1 rocket can be seen as a big success for the company.

Ultimately, it showed that flying a rocket made almost entirely from 3D-printed pieces is possible.

The world's first 3D-printed rocket lifts off

Relativity Space's Terran 1 took off from Launch Complex 16 at Florida's Cape Canaveral Space Force Station at 8:25 p.m. EST (0025 GMT on March 23). The mission was called "Good Luck, Have Fun" and the main aim was to test launch the 3D-printed rocket. As such, no payloads were loaded into the rocket prior to launch.

The Terran 1 rocket survived Max-Q and its first and second stages separated successfully. However, roughly three minutes into the flight, the upper stage failed to reach orbit due to an anomaly.

"No one's ever attempted to launch a 3D-printed rocket into orbit, and, while we didn't make it all the way today, we gathered enough data to show that flying 3D-printed rockets is viable," Relativity Space's Arwa Tizani Kelly explained during the company's launch webcast on Wednesday.

"We just completed a major step in proving to the world that 3D-printed rockets are structurally viable," she added.

Terran 1 launch a success despite failure to reach orbit

Despite the fact they didn't reach orbit, Relativity Space will likely be very happy with the launch.

In a recent interview with, company officials said reaching low Earth orbit (LEO) in its first attempt wasn't guaranteed and would have been viewed as "a total home run."

Before Wednesday's launch Relativity Space co-founder Tim Ellis said getting through Max-Q was "the key inflection" for the GLHF mission.

Relativity Space's Terran 1 rocket is 85 percent 3D-printed by mass. According to the company's website, this makes it the "largest 3D printed object to exist and attempt orbital flight," according to the company's website. In the future, Relativity Space aims to eventually build Terran 1 rockets that are 95 percent 3D-printed.

The Terran 1 features nine Aeon engines on the rocket's first stage and an Aeon Vac engine on the second. These are all 3D-printed and use a combination of liquid oxygen and liquid natural gas as fuel — a combination that has never been used to reach orbit.

Terran 1 has a maximum payload capacity of 2,756 pounds (1,250 kilograms) to low-Earth orbit. The company has ambitious plans, and it says its combination of liquid oxygen and natural gas is an ideal combination for eventually carrying out its intended goal of reaching Mars. That's because it is reusable and is "the easiest to eventually transition to methane on Mars."