The first-ever 3D-printed rocket was scheduled to lift off from Cape Canaveral Space Force Center on Wednesday night, but was scrubbed less than an hour before launch.
The debut of the new rocket, designed by California-based startup Relativity Space, was postponed over fuel temperature concerns, putting off a key test for the company’s revolutionary strategy to cut manufacturing costs for space-bound craft.
The 110-foot-tall Terran 1 rocket, 85% of which was fabricated from a 3D-printer, was pulled off the launch pad due to dwindling “propellant thermal conditions” in the rocket’s second stage during a three-hour launch window, the company said on Twitter.
“When using liquid natural gas, the methane needs time to get to the right concentration. This is why our next attempt will be a few days from now. More to come soon!” the company wrote.
The next launch has been scheduled for Saturday between 1 and 4 p.m.
Relativity is one of a number of startups competing to meet the growing demand for affordable launch services, and has bet on its massive, robotic 3D printer to save big bucks on the production line.
The company’s strategy differs from those who have attempted to lower costs by building reusable rockets like SpaceX’s Falcon 9 boosters.
“The launch that we’re preparing for is an opportunity to demonstrate a whole bunch of things all at once,” Josh Brost, Relativity’s senior vice president of revenue, told Reuters ahead of Wednesday’s planned launch.
Brost said the Terran 1 rocket is “by far the largest 3D-printed structure that’s ever been assembled.”
Assembling the rocket with the printer hastens the manufacturing process, he said, and allows for the company to easily make tweaks to the rocket’s design, cutting out the need of a complex supply chain.
Even before the launch, Brost said he would not be surprised if it were to be postponed.
“First launches of new rockets are notoriously prone to have different reasons that they need the scrub,” Brost said. “So it would not be at all unlikely for us to even need a couple of attempts to get through the countdown and lift off for our inaugural launch.”
Terran 1 is built to carry 2,755 pounds of satellites over Earth, as demand has been driven by companies like SpaceX, OneWeb and Amazon look to deploy tens of thousands of internet-beaming satellites in low orbit.
Relative has also developed a much larger design, the Terran R, which is expected to launch in 2024.
Relativity has roughly $1.65 billion worth of launch contracts secured for both its rockets — a majority of which is attributable to the larger Terran R.
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