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Relativity Space Develops Reusable Launch Vehicle Using 3D-Printed Aluminum

© by Relativity Space

Relativity Space, a company dedicated to building humanity’s multi-planetary future, revealed plans for the Terran R, a reusable medium-to-heavy lift orbital launch vehicle made from 3D-printed aluminum. This development builds on the company’s seven years of experience developing its Terran 1 program — the world’s first 3D-printed aluminum rocket to fly and reach space.

“Our first chapter as a company was to prove to the world 3D-printed rockets were viable. We just did that with Terran 1,” said Tim Ellis, co-founder and CEO of Relativity Space. “Our second chapter is to build the next great launch company with Terran R.”

With satellite technology advancements, demand for bandwidth soaring, and satellite constellations representing the largest part of the growing launch market, the total addressable market is expected to reach over $30 billion per year by 2030. With this new reusable rocket, Relativity will be able to meet this significant and growing market demand. The new reusable rocket is designed to meet the needs of commercial companies and government entities sending payloads into low Earth orbit (LEO), medium Earth orbit (MEO), geostationary equatorial orbit (GEO), and beyond. The rocket is expected to enable the development of a point-to-point space freighter capable of missions from the Earth to the Moon, Mars, and beyond.

Starting in 2026, Terran R will launch from Space Launch Complex 16, the company’s orbital launch site at Cape Canaveral, Florida. Interest in the Terran R and other launch systems from Relativity is evident, as the company already has signed launch service agreements (LSAs) totaling $1.65 billion, with additional LSAs currently under discussion.

Reusable Launch Vehicle Architecture

The Terran R is a 270-ft-tall two-stage rocket with an 8-ft diameter and a 5-meter payload. The rocket will prioritize first stage reusability, with the capability of launching 23,500 kg to LEO or 5,500 kg to a geosynchronous transfer orbit (GTO), both with downrange landing. It can also launch a maximum payload of 33,500 kg to LEO in expendable configuration. Horizontal integration to the launch vehicle will be supported through a standard payload attach fitting (PAF) interface, with payload integration configurations available for clusters of constellation satellites, single large satellites, or other unique spacecraft.

Designed for rapid reusability and development iteration speed, Terran R is a 3D printed rocket, with initial versions using aluminum alloy tank straight-section barrels in a hybrid manufacturing approach. This hybrid approach allows Relativity to meet the rapid launch and ramp rate timelines necessary for the market.

The Terran R rocket builds on Relativity’s Terran 1 3D-printed design. Each Terran R requires approximately 6 times more 3D printing by mass than Terran 1. The use of 3D printing technology is a strategic choice, as it enables the company to reduce vehicle complexity and improve manufacturability.

The Terran R will initially use the same proprietary printed aluminum alloy, with a focus on supply chain scaling. However, the company is actively developing a third-generation aluminum alloy, designed for improved performance and extending the orbital vehicle mission life beyond 20 reusable flights. The development of the new alloy is being accelerated with the aid of artificial intelligence-based alloy discovery tools.

The Terran R launch vehicle features an aerodynamic design for better reentry stability and improved control authority. The vehicle also includes two near body-length aero strakes, four unique slider-mechanism landing legs, four 3D-printed actuating grid fins, and a reentry heat shield on the aft end designed for rapid reusability. In addition, it features in-house developed avionics and flight software, an electromechanical actuator (EMA)-based engine thrust vector control (TVC) system, and EMAs for grid fin control.

According to Relativity, these features optimize first stage reusability and reduce the propellant required for reentry burns. It also enables a rapidly scaled launch cadence for customers along with a greater payload to orbit and lower costs compared to other reusable architectures.

“Terran R is the most customer-centric next-generation launch vehicle. It is not a conventional rocket. This is a new breed of launch vehicle with the right payload performance, reliability, focus on speed of development, optimized reusability, focus on scalability of launch ramp rate, and ultimately cost reduction baked into the architecture design and our program plans from day one,” said Ellis. “Terran 1 was like a concept car, redefining the boundaries of what is possible by developing many valuable brand-new technologies well ahead of their time. Terran R is the mass-market, huge demand product that will be amazing precisely because it brings those ‘concept car’ developments into full maturity, enabling Relativity to become a disruptive, diversified provider in solving the glaring medium-to-heavy lift launch market gap for customers with a new vehicle faster than previously possible.”

Launch System Infrastructure

Relativity will manufacture the Terran R in Long Beach, CA, at its 1 million sq ft headquarters. The facility is home to its fourth-generation Stargate 3D metal printers. The company estimates that it will be able to initially produce more than 45 Terran Rs annually from this single factory, with the ability to increase or decrease this production rate based on the reuse rate of the rockets and customer demand over time.

Stage and engine testing for Terran R will take place at Relativity’s test facilities, located at the NASA Stennis Space Center in Mississippi. Relativity is actively building a more than 150-acre expansion to house additional new test stands and infrastructure, which will support a high volume of Terran R testing as vehicle production and launch cadence increases. The completion of a new dual-bay vertical engine test stand is expected by Fall 2023.

At Space Launch Complex 16, Relativity’s current orbital launch site at the Space Force Base in Cape Canaveral, FL, the company is planning to build a secondary launch pad adjacent to its existing Terran 1 test and launch facilities.

With this infrastructure available, the development process will include the following steps: First, production and initial structural proto-qualification testing will be completed at Relativitiy’s headquarters in Long Beach. Then, the Terran R launch vehicles will travel by sea through the Panama Canal to the company’s test facilities in Mississippi. Following stage and engine testing, the vehicles will be shipped to Florida for launch. Reused boosters will stay in Florida and be rapidly refurbished for additional launches.

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