The Rocket Industry Reinvented

The 3D printing technology owned by Relatively Space is expected to have the capability of reinventing the rocket industry by printing entire rockets with massive AI powered robots, not only on Earth but on Mars. And they may just have the largest 3D printer in the world so keep your eyes peeled for the rocket industry reinvented.

“Roll up the loading bay doors at Relativity’s Los Angeles headquarters and you’ll find four of the largest metal 3D printers in the world, churning out rocket parts day and night. The latest model of the company’s proprietary printer, dubbed Stargate, stands 30 feet tall and has two massive robotic arms that protrude like tentacles from the machine. The Stargate printers will manufacture about 95 percent, by mass, of Relativity’s first rocket, named Terran-1. The only parts that won’t be printed are the electronics, cables, and a handful of moving parts and rubber gaskets.

To make a rocket 3D-printable, Ellis, the co-founder, and his team had to totally rethink the way rockets are designed. As a result, Terran-1 will have 100 times fewer parts than a comparable rocket. Its Aeon engine, for instance, consists of just 100 parts, whereas a typical liquid-fueled rocket would have thousands. By consolidating parts and optimizing them for 3D printing, Ellis says Relativity will be able to go from raw materials to the launch pad in just 60 days—in theory, anyway. Relativity hasn’t yet assembled a full Terran-1 and doesn’t expect the rocket to fly until 2021 at the earliest.

‘A full-scale test will be the biggest milestone for them to prove this new technology,’ says Shagun Sachdeva, a senior analyst at Northern Sky Research, a space consultancy. Then the company can start to address the other questions about its approach, such as whether there’s a need for a new rocket to pop into existence every 60 days.

Relativity isn’t the only rocket company utilizing additive manufacturing technology, why should they be? 3D printing and aerospace innovation are turning out to be quite compatible. It is important that Relativity finds their niche and differentiates themselves from the other aerospace competition. Relativity, as Ellis would argue, is thinking big, and in a bigger way than companies like SpaceX and BlueOrigin.

“Ellis sees 3D-printed rockets as the key to transporting critical infrastructure to and from the surface of Mars. These rockets could, for example, be used to loft science experiments into orbit around Mars or return samples to Earth.”

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Categories: Aerospace, Innovation