After 7 years in the making, Relativity’s Terran 1, the first 3D printed rocket, is rolling out to the platform in preparation for the upcoming launch. The Terran 1 is almost entirely produced via additive manufacturing, meaning both the entire body and nearly all parts of the engines are printed by either DED (via the internally developed Stargate WAAM systems) or metal PBF (Velo3D and possibly other systems). The launch was originally scheduled for Summer 2022 but considering the revolutionary nature of Relativity’s project this can be considered a very minor delay.
This makes Relativity’s Terran 1 the tallest metal 3D printed structure ever built and – certainly the largest one to ever be hurdled towards space. According to Relativity, using additive manufacturing to produce rockets in its highly automated factory results in higher reliability (100x fewer parts meaning a lot fewer subassemblies and thus possible points of rupture), higher production speed (up to 10x faster production time), higher flexibility (through no fixed tooling needs and a streamlined, simplified supply chain) and optimization via compounding iteration quality and time improvements.
Another major next step for Relativity will be the launch of Terran R—its fully reusable, entirely 3D printed rocket—from Cape Canaveral in 2024. How has Relativity come this far and how much does AM factor into the picture? A lot more than anyone imagined. In our recent AM Focus Aerospace eBook, we discussed these incredible achievements with Josh Brost, VP of Business Development.
“First and foremost, we really see 3D printing as the technology that’s going to help us get to the future—faster—for a variety of reasons,” Mr. Brost told 3dpbm. But the initial idea to tap into the potential of 3D printing came from our co-founders, Tim Ellis and Jordan Noone, following respective stints at Blue Origin and SpaceX. The industry was using 3D printing, but not in a way that truly leveraged its full potential. It was an approach that made 3D printing complementary to the existing manufacturing process, rather than as the central technology driving future development. No one was really focused on the bigger picture and long-term potential, so Relativity was founded on the idea that AM—at the right scope and scale—will successfully build the multi-planetary future we’re envisioning.”
From the start, Relativity’s goal has been to launch the first 3D printed rocket from Mars. To achieve that goal, the company had to set out to launch the first 3D printed rocket, the Terran 1, from Earth, and in order to do that the team had to create the world’s largest metal 3D printer, the Stargate. Relativity worked a lot on the material science—the actual physics of how the 3D printing process works—to make sure the quality was good enough to print a rocket. They had to come up with a way to simulate the printing process, develop all the control algorithms using computer vision and collect that data then correlate it with the material science element of inspecting the material quality and building this correlation and learning matrix over time. This all was developed to be able to print full-scale rockets, stage structures. It was a long process, but one that ultimately is now paying off.
Read the entire interview with Josh Brost on 3dpbm’s AM Focus 2022 Aerospace eBook, available to view online or download absolutely free at this link (no registration required).