World's first 3D-printed rocket to orbit is set to launch today
Relativity Space aims to launch Terran 1, an (almost) fully 3D-printed rocket, to orbit for the first time today, March 8, and it will share live footage of the historic space launch.
Rocket firms, including SpaceX and Rocket Lab, have long used 3D-printed parts and engines in their rockets but have yet to launch a fully 3D-printed launch system. If all goes to plan for California-based Relativity Space, that could soon change.
The 3D-printed Terran 1 is finally ready for liftoff
The 110-foot-tall (33 meters) Terran 1 rocket is scheduled to launch from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida during a three-hour window opening at 1 pm EST (1800 GMT).
Terran 1 is roughly 85 percent 3D-printed by mass, though Relativity Space aims to make future models up to 95 percent 3D-printed.
The rocket's first mission, called "Good Luck, Have Fun," or GLHF, will be viewable via Relativity Space's YouTube channel and can be watched here via the embedded video below.
The key goal for Relativity Space today is to show that the 3D-printed Terran 1 is robust enough to handle the immense forces of a launch. The company will be particularly interested to see how its rocket fairs during Max-Q after launch, which is the point where the structural loads are the highest on a rocket as it makes its way to orbit.
In an emailed interview with Space.com, Relativity Space representatives said reaching low Earth orbit (LEO) isn't guaranteed at all and would be viewed as "a total home run." As such, the rocket won't carry any scientific payloads, as was the case with Japan's explosive failed debut launch of its new H3 rocket this week.
Relativity Space's ambitious plans
The Terran 1 rocket uses methane as a propellant and liquid oxygen as an oxidizer. It will be the first US rocket to use that combination and the first in the world to reach orbit. Beijing-based firm Landspace's Zhuque-2 attempted a "metalox" rocket launch in December 2022, but that orbital launch attempt failed.
According to Relativity Space's website, Terran 1 is an expendable rocket capable of lifting 2,756 pounds (1,250 kg) to LEO. The rocket features nine proprietary Aeon engines in its first stage and one in its upper stage.
Relativity Space also hopes to launch its next model, the Terran R, as soon as next year. That launch vehicle will be reusable and capable of lifting roughly 44,100 lbs (20,000 kg) to LEO.
Relativity Space was founded in 2015 by Tim Ellis and Jordan Noone, both of whom worked at Blue Origin. Noone also previously worked at SpaceX.