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Launch of 3D-printed rocket postponed due to propellant issue

NASA’s Lucy spacecraft launches on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V 401 rocket. (Chasity Maynard/Orlando Sentinel/TNS)
March 10, 2023

With just minutes left before the highly anticipated first launch of the Terran 1 booster, Relativity Space announced the liftoff would be postponed due to a fuel issue. 

Relativity Space hopes to be the first rocket producer to reach orbit using rockets that are not only built from primarily 3D printed components, but that also derive fuel from methane. 

It’s that unique fueling system that lead to the launch cancelation, according to the company’s Twitter account, which cited thermal and fuel concentration concerns as cause for the launch delay. 

Undeterred, Relativity Space has confirmed via Twitter that a new launch window has been scheduled for Saturday, March 11. 

The Terran 1 is 3D-printed except for moving parts, rubber seals, and the computer system. Tim Ellis, a former engineer with Jeff Bezos’ space startup Blue Origin, is the founder and CEO of Relativity Space. 

While some may see launch cancelation as a negative, Ellis has created new technology and machinery to reach the point where a completed rocket was positioned to launch. According to CNBC, Ellis has taken on the building of an entire industry in pursuit of successfully launching 3D Rockets. 

“While Relativity has invented our own 3D printers, that’s not the most innovative thing, really,” Ellis said, “I think the most innovative thing that Relativity is doing is that we’re the world’s first end product 3D-printing company. We’re not just building the printer and selling it, and we’re not just designing the product and buying someone else’s printers. We’re actually integrating both of those together.” 

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The rescheduled test flight if the Terran 1, nicknamed “Good Luck, Have Fun’, is being conducted in order to allow evaluation of the rocket as it travels into lower-Earth orbit. The company hopes to gather data on how the 3D-printed rocket withstands the stresses it encounters as it launches. 

The information gathered would be instrumental in aiding Relativity Space to their next stated goal- the launch of the Terran R, a 216-foot-tall rocket with the capability of carrying up to 44,000 pounds by 2024. 

The Terran R is designed to be reusable and is broadly considered a direct market competitor to Elon Musk’s Falcon 9 rocket plans. 

According to Crunchbase, Relativity Space has raised a total of $1.3 billion dollars for development, with large investors including BlackRock, Soroban Capital Partners LP, and Mark Cuban. With a valuation of $4.2 billion dollars in 2021, Relativity Space is among the most highly-valued privately owned companies operating in the United States.