Relativity Space came within 70 seconds of its first-ever launch attempt of the 3D-printed Terran 1 this afternoon, but an automated shutdown put plans on hold and teams must wait for its next shot.
“All parties, we are scrubbing operations for the day,” said launch director Clay Walker. “Thanks for playing.”
The Long Beach, Calif.-based startup looks set to join the ranks of SpaceX and United Launch Alliance offering launch services from the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station with a liftoff from Launch Complex 16.
The company had been shooting for a 2:40 p.m. liftoff, but the clock stopped with just over a minute remaining when automated systems found the temperature of the rocket’s second stage oxygen supply was out of bounds, according to commentators on the company’s live stream. Initially, the teams sought to attempt one more shot before the end of the three-hour launch window at 3:45, but blew that attempt with less than 30 minutes left.
It is unclear whether they will be given another opportunity to fly on Thursday. SpaceX has a scheduled flight with a Falcon 9 at 2:13 p.m. from a nearby Canaveral launch pad on Thursday that would potentially conflict with a Terran 1 liftoff attempt.
The Terran 1, which is about 85% 3D printed, is a smaller rocket compared to SpaceX’s Falcon 9 or ULA’s Atlas rockets, standing just 110 feet tall. The first stage uses nine Aeon 1 motors, while the second stage uses a single Aeon vacuum motor. It is capable of sending a 2,756-pound payload into a low-Earth orbit of about 310 miles.
The small satellite market is its target customer.
This is a test flight called “GLHF”, as in “Good Luck, Have Fun”, with a symbolic 3D printed metal object that was one of the company’s first 3D printed objects from the first generation of Stargate metal 3D. printers.
The fuel for Terran 1 is liquid oxygen and refined liquefied natural gas close to methane, a combination called “methalox” that has yet to power an orbital rocket. SpaceX’s new Starship, ULA’s upcoming Vulcan and Blue Origin’s under-development New Glenn will also use the mix. China has also tried, but failed, to launch a rocket using this next-generation fuel. Relativity may be the first.
Since there is no traditional customer, the target’s orbital altitude is lower than normal, only 125-130 miles high.
Relativity, which was founded in 2016, has a contract with Space Force to use Launch Complex 16, which is about halfway up the row of launch sites along Cape Canaveral, with the ULA and SpaceX facilities to the north. It is within sight of the launch site to the south that sent John Glenn into space as the first American to orbit the Earth in 1962.
LC-16 was used from 1959 to 1988, home to 150 launches, among them Titan and Pershing rockets, as well as tests for the Apollo program.
The Canaveral launch follows on the heels of the small rocket company Astra Space, which made two launch attempts in 2022 at the nearby Space Launch Complex 46 to the south, though both of those launches ended in failure, and that company has shelved that rocket for a new design. Other small rocket companies have had varying degrees of success, such as Rocket Lab, which now launches from both New Zealand and Virginia.
However, Relativity hopes to buck the trend of initial launches not achieving orbit.
“The launch of Terran 1 is a historic moment for our company. A completely new approach to manufacturing was created to get our 3D printed rocket to the launch pad this week. So what does victory look like?” the company wrote to its Twitter account this week. “If we get even further in flight to stage separation, we will have achieved a full first stage flight. That’s another great achievement for the team. From there, we’ll try to ignite the second stage and get Terran 1 into orbit. … Just just because it hasn’t been done this way before doesn’t mean it can’t be.”
Even if it doesn’t hit orbit, the company is already moving forward with work on a larger rocket called the Terran R, which would be 95% 3D printed, have a reusable first stage and could compete with, say, SpaceX and ULA.
“I care less about competition, more about collaboration and inspiring dozens to hundreds of other companies to make (Mars and Earth) multiplanetary societies happen in our immediate lifetime,” company co-founder and CEO Tim Ellis wrote this month on Twitter.
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The company logo itself represents Earth and Mars slowly separating, first connected but then standing alone.
The company plans at least one more publicized Terran 1 launch if the GLHF missions go well, a mission to deliver a small NASA satellite into orbit next, under a $3 million contract it won in 2020 with Astra Space and Firefly Space. However, no launch date has been set for that mission.
They’ve also said the Terran 1 has several commercial customers lined up, but company officials in the past year have touted more plans to push ahead with the Terran R.
“This is a technology demonstrator and really a pathfinder for us to help us develop the idea of reusability right from the ground up with Terran R,” said Patrick Svatek, Relativity’s Cape operations and launch site director on a trip last fall.
Terran R could fly as early as 2024. It has already been contracted to work with the company Impulse Space to send what could be the first commercial payload to Mars. Relativity also last year announced a deal to use Terran R for launch services for satellite company OneWeb starting in 2025, among a dozen customers that have signed about $1.65 billion in Terran R launch contracts to date.
“We’re still in the early stages of a 9-inning ballgame,” Ellis said. :This launch will not uniquely define our long-term success. … However, this launch will provide us with useful data and insights that will better prepare us for our next battle.”
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