3D printed rocket to go to space in two years?

3D printing is infiltrating the rocket industry: SpaceX introduced its first 3D printed component, the main oxidizer valve body, back in 2014; Blue Origin also fused in its powerful BE-4 engine 3D printed components; Rocket Lab, an industry leader in 3D printed rockets, uses metal 3D printing to produce rocket engines; even NASA is researching which spacecraft parts could be more reliable and cheaper with 3D printers manufactured.

But even engineers active at the forefront of 3D-printed rocket technology find the idea of ​​rocket upstart Relativity Space crazy: It wants to print almost the entire rocket and reduce the number of its components from 100,000 There are fewer than 1,000 of them, and the 3D-printed rocket takes just 60 days from production to launch.

According to US media reports, the rocket industry upstart “Relativistic” space company recently received a $140 million investment to advance its seemingly crazy space vision: 3D print an entire rocket and send it into space. When companies like SpaceX and Blue Origin invest in reusable rockets, Relativity space companies question, why not 3D print all the parts and automate the entire process?

According to reports, the “Relativity” space company was founded in Seattle four years ago and is currently headquartered in Los Angeles by two rocket engineers born in the 90s: CEO Tim Ellis (Tim Ellis) used to work on propulsion at Blue Origin. CTO Jordan Noone was a Blue Origin intern and later worked as a propulsion development engineer at SpaceX.

In fact, it was while working at Blue Origin that Ellis first got the idea for a 3D printed rocket. He believes that the future of the space industry is 3D printing, not just reusing entire launch vehicles. “It’s hard to start a rocket company, it’s hard to start a 3D printing company, and it’s even harder to start both. Unless we develop metal 3D printing, we’re not going to launch a rocket.” Liss said.

Currently, Relativity makes rocket components at its Los Angeles factory, and the company built the world’s largest 3D metal printer, the Stargate. The Stargate is the size of a room and uses a combination of electronic control systems, thermal imaging cameras and sensors installed near the material storage to print a stronger, more reliable alloy rocket. In addition, the company has an in-house metallurgical and materials characterization laboratory.

The fully 3D-printed engine designed by Space Relativity, called Aeon 1, uses liquid oxygen and methane as propellants. The most striking feature of the Aeon 1 engine is its simplicity—it has only 100 parts, whereas most rocket engines typically have thousands. The engine is said to be printed in less than 20 days. The company says it has conducted more than 200 high-temperature tests of the Aeon 1 rocket engine at NASA’s Stennis Space Center in Mississippi.

Using the “Stargate” metal printer and nine Aeon 1 engines, the company built the first launch vehicle, called Terrain 1, from scratch, and on its upper stage (the part above the first stage of a multi-stage rocket) A single engine is installed. Terrain 1 is designed to have a payload of about 1,250 kilograms and an estimated cost of $10 million per launch, making it the “world’s most cost-effective launcher.”

Terrain 1 will complete testing by the end of 2020 and is expected to launch in 2021, according to Space Relativity’s plans. The company has reached an agreement with Canadian satellite communications company Telesat to use Terran 1 to undertake some of the launches for the latter’s low-orbit satellite constellation (a collection of functioning satellites launched into orbit).


fast and flexible

The obvious advantages of 3D printing rockets are lower long-term costs, while also enabling faster manufacturing of rockets. The space company Relativity claims they can build an entire rocket from raw materials in just 60 days.

Generally speaking, a rocket consists of four main systems: payload, guidance, propulsion, and structure, and behind every successful launch requires a large amount of labor and a vast network of suppliers to work together. Therefore, traditional rocket companies need 24 to 48 months to make a rocket.

Relativistic space company hopes to drastically reduce production time by streamlining its supply chain. They try to be self-sufficient, printing 95% of the rocket’s components in-house and outsourcing the remaining 5% of the cables, chips or rubber parts.

Another advantage of 3D printed rockets is the smart process and quality control. Through 3D printing, Relativity Space has introduced software-defined automation technology that ensures smooth and flexible changes to designs compared to the limited tools used in traditional factories.


To print cities on Mars

Relativistic Space is aiming to put objects of about 1,250 kilograms into orbit, which is paltry compared to the 64-ton payload of SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket, which is more than 50 times larger. So instead of competing with SpaceX, it’s focusing on putting smaller satellites into low Earth orbit — the smallest rockets on the space market currently carry only 150kg of payload.

The ultimate goal of Relativity Space is not only to grab a piece of the orbiting satellite market in the space industry, but its longer-term goal is to land on Mars. “Human life on Mars” has always been its selling point, and the company believes in that vision. Company CEO Ellis wants to build the first 3D-printed rocket to reach Mars. Once on Mars, Ellis and his team wanted to create a self-sufficient city on Mars.

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Published on 09/20/2022