WASHINGTON — The world's first 3D-printed rocket launched successfully on Wednesday, marking a step forward for the California company behind the innovative spacecraft, though it failed to reach orbit.
Billed as less costly to produce and fly, the unmanned Terran 1 rocket launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida at 11:25 p.m. (11:25 a.m. in Manila) but suffered an "anomaly" during second-stage separation as it streamed towards low Earth orbit, according to a livestream broadcast by aerospace startup Relativity Space.
The company did not immediately give further details.
While it failed to reach orbit, Wednesday's launch proved that the rocket -- whose mass is 85 percent 3D-printed -- could withstand the rigors of lift-off.
The successful launch came on the third attempt. It had originally been scheduled to launch on March 8 but was postponed at the last minute because of propellant temperature issues.
A second attempt on March 11 was scrubbed due to fuel pressure problems.
Had Terran 1 reached low Earth orbit, it would have been the first privately funded vehicle using methane fuel to do so on its first try, according to Relativity.
Terran 1 was not carrying a payload for its first flight, but the rocket will eventually be capable of putting up to 1,250 kilograms into low Earth orbit.
The rocket is 33.5 meters tall with a diameter of 2.2 meters.
Eighty-five percent of its mass is 3D-printed with metal alloys, including the nine Aeon 1 engines used in its first stage and the one Aeon Vacuum engine employed in the second.
It is the largest ever 3D-printed object and was made using the world's largest 3D metal printers, according to the Long Beach-based company.
BUILT IN 60 DAYS
Relativity's goal is to produce a rocket that is 95 percent 3D-printed.
Terran 1 is powered by engines using liquid oxygen and liquid natural gas -- the "propellants of the future," capable of eventually fueling a voyage to Mars, Relativity says.
SpaceX's Starship and Vulcan rockets being developed by United Launch Alliance use the same fuel.
Relativity is also building a larger rocket, the Terran R, capable of putting a payload of 20,000 kg into low Earth orbit.
The first launch of a Terran R, which is designed to be fully reusable, is scheduled for next year.
A satellite operator can wait for years for a spot on an Arianespace or SpaceX rocket, and Relativity Space hopes to accelerate the timeline with its 3D-printed rockets.
Relativity said its 3D-printed versions use 100 times fewer parts than traditional rockets and can be built from raw materials in just 60 days.
Relativity has signed commercial launch contracts worth $1.65 billion, mostly for the Terran R, according to CEO Tim Ellis, who co-founded the company in 2015.
© Agence France-Presse