Debut launch of Relativity’s Terran rocket, made with 3D printing technology.

The countdown is on for the launch of a rocket like no other. A 3D-printed rocket created by Relativity Space is set to take off on its inaugural orbit. Boasting an impressive height of 115 feet (35 meters), the Terran 1 is a testament to Relativity’s cutting-edge approach to manufacturing. With 85% of the rocket fabricated using a 3D printer, the Terran 1 is the largest 3D-printed structure ever assembled.

Speaking on the occasion, Josh Brost, Relativity’s senior vice president of revenue, said, “The launch that we’re preparing for is an opportunity to demonstrate a whole bunch of things all at once.” He elaborated further, stating that the 3D-printing process is a game-changer. It simplifies the manufacturing process and allows the company to make changes to the design of the rocket more quickly.

Normally, rockets that are designed to be reusable, like Falcon 9 boosters from Elon Musk’s SpaceX, are used to control costs. But Relativity is taking a different approach. They are betting that giant robotic 3D-printers can lower their costs and create high-quality rockets.

The 3D printing process depends on the use of machines that can autonomously print sequential layers of liquid, soft, or powdered materials that are then quickly hardened or fused to create solid, three-dimensional objects.

The Terran 1 is an expendable rocket designed to carry a payload of 2,755 pounds (1,250 kg) into low-Earth orbit. However, Relativity anticipates a new reusable rocket, the Terran R, which will be 3D-printed and flown in 2024.

Relativity is one of several U.S. rocket startups that are using innovative methods to meet the growing demand for low-cost launch services. Companies such as OneWeb, SpaceX, and Jeff Bezos’ Amazon are planning to deploy tens of thousands of internet-beaming satellites to low-Earth orbit in the coming years.

While the mega-constellation plans may be driving demand, the future of the Terran 1 remains uncertain. Asked if Relativity is still selling Terran 1 to customers, Brost said, “the company continues to talk to people about both vehicles.”

Regardless of the uncertainty surrounding the Terran 1, Relativity has roughly $1.65 billion worth of launch contracts secured for both its rockets. The majority of this revenue comes from the larger Terran R, which will be used to launch OneWeb’s next-generation satellites.

In the end, the success of the Terran 1’s upcoming flights will inform how the Terran R is engineered. One thing everyone can agree on, though, is that the Terran 1 is certainly one for the history books.

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