Relativity Space stacks 3D-printed rocket on launch pad ahead of 1st flight

An illustration of Relativity Space's Terran 1 rocket launching into space.
An illustration of Relativity Space's Terran 1 rocket launching into space. (Image credit: Relativity Space)

A 3D-printed rocket is once again fully assembled at the launch pad ahead of its debut mission.

Relativity Space put together the stages of its expendable Terran 1 rocket, a two-stage small-lift vehicle, on the launch pad for "final ground tests" ahead of its debut flight, CEO Tim Ellis shared Monday (Feb. 6) on Twitter.

"We are vertical again!!" tweeted Ellis about Terran 1, which is rumored to be launching as soon as this month from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida providing these tests go to plan. (Relativity Space has not disclosed an official launch date yet.)

Related: Relativity Space to launch satellite 'tugs' on 3D-printed rocket

The debut Relativity mission is called GLHF (Good Luck, Have Fun) and will be a key launch test of the 110-foot (33-meter) Terran 1 before it flies customer payloads. 

The company's rocket is 85 percent 3D-printed by mass and is said to be "the largest 3D printed object to exist and to attempt orbital flight" by the company. Eventually, they plan to create Terran 1 rockets that are 95 percent 3D-printed.

The nine Aeon engines on the first stage of the rocket, along with the Aeon Vac engine on the second, are also all 3D-printed. They will use liquid oxygen as well as liquid natural gas, which is a rare combination in the industry. In fact, a natural gas-fueled rocket has not yet reached orbit successfully.

Should the natural gas fuel prove itself in low Earth orbit, Relativity hopes to eventually port the technology to the Red Planet because the propulsion is reusable and "the easiest to eventually transition to methane on Mars," company officials state. (Relativity aims to reach the Red Planet eventually.)

Co-founders Tim Ellis and Jordan Noone founded Relativity in 2015 after working at Blue Origin and SpaceX, respectively. Terran 1 can deliver a maximum payload of up to 2,756 pounds (1,250 kilograms) to low-Earth orbit, according to Relativity, and that's not all the company is working on.

In 2021, Relativity unveiled the much more powerful and better-performing Terran R, which will be 216 feet (66 m) tall by 16 feet (4.9 m) wide. It will also boost nearly 25 times the payload mass of Terran 1 into space, hefting 44,100 lbs. (20,000 kg) to low Earth orbit, representatives said at the time. Terran R will also be fully reusable and may launch as soon as 2024.

Terran R's forecasted payload capacity will bring it close to a big competitor: SpaceX's Falcon 9, which has been lifting satellite clusters and large payloads into orbit and beyond for nearly a decade. Falcon 9 seeks its reusability through landing the first stage on land or on a nearby drone ship. 

Elizabeth Howell is the co-author of "Why Am I Taller?" (ECW Press, 2022; with Canadian astronaut Dave Williams), a book about space medicine. Follow her on Twitter @howellspace. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook.

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Elizabeth Howell
Staff Writer, Spaceflight

Elizabeth Howell (she/her), Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022 covering diversity, education and gaming as well. She was contributing writer for for 10 years before joining full-time. Elizabeth's reporting includes multiple exclusives with the White House and Office of the Vice-President of the United States, an exclusive conversation with aspiring space tourist (and NSYNC bassist) Lance Bass, speaking several times with the International Space Station, witnessing five human spaceflight launches on two continents, flying parabolic, working inside a spacesuit, and participating in a simulated Mars mission. Her latest book, "Why Am I Taller?", is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University and a Bachelor of History from Canada's Athabasca University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science at several institutions since 2015; her experience includes developing and teaching an astronomy course at Canada's Algonquin College (with Indigenous content as well) to more than 1,000 students since 2020. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday. Mastodon: