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Relativity Space counts down to third launch attempt for 3D-printed rocket
Relativity Space counts down to third launch attempt for 3D-printed rocket
by Sheri Walsh
Washington DC (UPI) Mar 22, 2021

After two previous launch aborts this month, Relativity Space will try again Wednesday night to launch its debut rocket, made almost entirely of 3D-printed parts.

The rocket Terran 1 is scheduled to liftoff from Launch Complex-16 at Florida's Cape Canaveral Space Force Station during a three-hour window, which opens at 10 p.m. EDT.

"Beautiful weather today at LC-16," Relativity Space tweeted Wednesday with the hashtag #GLHF, "Good Luck, Have Fun," which is the company's nickname for the test flight.

The two-stage rocket is a 110-foot-tall launcher designed to carry more than a ton of cargo into low Earth orbit. The Terran 1 is targeting the commercial launch market for small to mid-size satellites, but will not carry any satellites when it lifts off Wednesday.

"There are a number of firsts here potentially on this rocket," said Josh Brost, vice president of revenue operations at Relativity Space. "It has the chance of being the first liquid natural gas/liquid oxygen rocket to make it to orbit."

"It has, by far, the highest 3D-printed content of any rocket in history. We're sitting at about 85% by mass, where I don't think any other rocket has gone past maybe 4%," Brost added.

This is the third launch attempt for Relativity Space, which is headquartered in Long Beach, Calif. Launch attempts were called off on March 8 and March 11 after a series of aborts were triggered during the countdowns, just seconds before launch.

Relativity Space said the first abort was related to a "corner case in the state separation automation" that "properly aborted" within a second of liftoff.

After pushing the launch to the edge of the three-hour launch window, an automated abort triggered around T-45 seconds because fuel pressure for the rocket's second stage was low.

"The team went HARD today and we intend to do so during our next attempt," Relativity Space said March 11.

The first scheduled liftoff was postponed three days earlier after the launch system automatically aborted during countdown twice because of fuel temperature issues, pushing the launch beyond its liftoff window.

Work to prepare for Wednesday's Terran 1 launch has involved a number of "software redline tweaks" to resolve preset limits that were tripped, which automatically aborted the two previous liftoffs, according to Tim Ellis, co-founder and chief executive officer of Relativity Space.

Wednesday's flight is scheduled to last eight-minutes, and if all goes well would make the Terran 1 rocket the first methane-fueled launcher to reach orbit. ULA's Vulcan and SpaceX's Starship, both larger rockets, are scheduled for their first full-scale test flights over the coming months.

Methane is the "propellant choice of the future, especially for reusable rockets," Ellis said.

"No new company has ever had their liquid rocket make it to space on their first attempt," said Brost.

"So if everything goes incredibly well, and we achieve orbit on our first launch Wednesday, that would be a remarkable milestone for us, which we would be, over the moon excited about."

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