Relativity Space puts away Terran 1 rocket, focuses on larger, reusable Terran R
The very first 3D printed rocket is removed after a single flight.
This vehicle, Relativity Space Terran 1, launched on its first test flight on March 22. The rocket performed well initially, surviving Max-Q, the portion of flight during which structural loads are highest on a vehicle. But something went wrong shortly after the two stages of Terran 1 separated, and the rocket failed to reach orbit.
Wednesday April 12, Relativity Space revealed preliminary findings (opens in a new tab) of its ongoing anomaly investigation. It appears the main valves on the upper-stage Aeon engine opened slower than expected, company officials said. Also, the engine’s oxygen pump did not build pressure as expected, possibly due to a “vapour bubble” at the pump inlet. Despite these problems, the rocket reached a maximum altitude of 83.2 miles (134 kilometers), well above the Karman line 62 miles (100 km) away, the widely recognized boundary where outer space begins.
But those findings took a back seat to bigger news Relativity Space released on Wednesday: The company is ditching the Terran 1 to focus on the larger, more powerful Terran R, like CNBC (opens in a new tab) And Ars-Technica (opens in a new tab) reported.
Video: Relativity Space CEO Tim Ellis on 3D Printed Rockets and the Future
It’s not exactly a shock; Relativity Space has long emphasized that the Terran 1 is a pioneer for the Terran R, which the company sees as its future workhorse. But little did we know Terran 1’s time would be so short – that it would only have one chance to strut.
We also learned on Wednesday that Relativity Space has significantly changed the design of the Terran R (opens in a new tab)making it bigger and more powerful.
The previous iteration was expected to be 216 feet (66 meters) tall and capable of lifting up to 22 tons (20 metric tons) into low Earth orbit (LEO), largely thanks to its seven Aeon first-stage engines.
The new Terran R, however, will soar 270 feet (82 m) above the ground and feature 13 eons in its first stage. It will be able to deliver up to 26 tons (23.5 metric tons) to LEO in reusable mode, or a whopping 37 tons (33.5 metric tons) in expendable configuration. For comparison: SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, which features a reusable first stage, can carry 25.1 tons (22.8 metric tons) to LEO.
This consumable variant is also a new development; the Terran R had previously been touted as a fully reusable rocket. The plan now is to go with a consumable top stage, at least for now, on top of a consumable or reusable first stage.
“I call it a first-stage reuse prioritization, simply because the economic benefit is so much more important,” said Tim Ellis, co-founder and CEO of Relativity Space. says Eric Berger of Ars Technica (opens in a new tab). “And since we need to get to market and achieve a higher ramp rate as quickly as possible, it made sense to focus the company’s resources on that. It’s a much more pragmatic initial solution.”
Relativity Space was aiming to launch Terran R for the first time in 2024. But the company is now targeting 2026 for first liftoff, Berger reported. That means we’ll have to wait three more years for another Relativity Space launch.
The Terran 1 that flew last month was around 85% 3d printed en masse. Relativity Space had said it planned to increase that number to 95% for the Terran R, but that’s no longer the case, at least not for the early iterations of the rocket.
“Ellis said the Terran R would still be a ‘3D-printed rocket,’ but initial versions (at least) will use straight-section aluminum alloy barrels,” Berger wrote. “It’s necessary, he said, to meet ‘overwhelming market demand’ for a vehicle of this size.”
And this size is considerable. As noted by Berger, Terran R’s liftoff thrust will be comparable to Blue Origin’s. New Glenn and United Launch Alliance Vulcan Centaur, two weightlifters who are also preparing for their first missions. Relativity Space is aiming really big.
Mike Wall is the author of “Over there (opens in a new tab)(Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for extraterrestrial life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall (opens in a new tab). Follow us on twitter @Spacedotcom (opens in a new tab) Or Facebook (opens in a new tab).