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The Rocket Revolution of Relativity Space

Regarding orbital rockets, Relativity Space launched the world’s first 3D-printed rocket last March, named “Good Luck, Have Fun” (GLHF). After overcoming two previous launch attempts, the 110-foot-tall Terran 1 rocket took off from Cape Canaveral, Florida. Although successful, the rocket failed to enter orbit due to an “anomaly” in the second stage. Despite this setback, the successful launch is a significant achievement for the relativistic space and additive manufacturing industries.

The Terran 1 rocket is unique because it was built using Stargate, Relativity’s robotic directed energy deposition (DED) system, which is believed to be the world’s largest metal 3D printer. Relativity’s approach, which utilizes DED for large-scale 3D printing, could impact the aerospace industry and manufacturing. Relativity’s achievement can potentially apply the technology to missile production, submarine hulls and aircraft airframes, highlighting the wider impact of 3D printing beyond space exploration.

Relativity decided to discontinue its Terran 1 small launch vehicle in April following a failed launch attempt in March as part of a shift in strategy. The company focuses on serving the heavy-lift market, with the Terran R capable of placing objects up to 5,500 kilograms into geostationary transfer orbit while recovering the first stage. Relativity has ambitious plans for its Terran R rocket, targeting a first launch no earlier than 2026. Founder Tim Ellis emphasized the space industry’s need for more competitive, diverse and disruptive launch capabilities. Terran R is being developed as a customer-focused reusable launch vehicle to meet this need.

Orbital Alliance: Agile Space and 6K Additive

In 2023, Agile Space and 6K Additive teamed up to advance space technology through high-temperature alloy 3D printing, especially key rocket components. Agile will certify and use 6K Additive’s nickel 625 (Ni625) powder in its 3D printed component manufacturing facilities, starting with Agile’s A2200 bicomponent hypergolic engine. The engine uses a special hydrazine fuel to operate without a traditional ignition spark. Additive manufacturing enables agile, rapid development cycles, reducing development time for aerospace components to just 12 months. Powered by 6K Additive’s Ni625 powder, the A2200 engine is specifically designed for lunar landers, providing precise control and manoeuvrability for lunar missions.

Ursa’s Advancement Breakthrough

2023 is a big year for 3D-printed rocket engine manufacturer Ursa Major. The Colorado-based startup secured funding, partnered with America Makes and shared its new process for 3D printing solid rocket motors (SRMs). One of its outstanding achievements is successfully raising $138 million in Series D funding. The cash will support the development of Ursa Major’s Lynx platform, which is designed for modular 3D printing of SRM.

Additionally, Ursa Major’s strategic partnership with America Makes, launched in 2021, established the Ursa Major Advanced Manufacturing Laboratory with $3 million in federal funding. In 2023, the partnership was extended until mid-2024, allowing Ursa Major to expand its capabilities. The partnership also aligns with the broader goals of the Biden administration’s executive order on federal funding of research and development and domestic manufacturing to increase manufacturing capabilities and strengthen national security.

Various space projects have witnessed the advancement of 3D printing, demonstrating the potential of 3D printing technology to help shape the future of space exploration. The impact of 3D printing technology on space exploration is all-round. It changes the design and production methods of products and opens up new possibilities for the industry’s future development. With the continuous advancement of technology, 3D printing technology will be more widely used in space exploration, driving the entire industry to develop in a more efficient, smarter, and more sustainable direction.

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