Relativity Space launched its Terran 1 rocket for its First Flight mission, named “Good Luck, Have Fun,” at 11:25pm March 22nd from Launch Complex 16 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida
Although the rocket successfully lifted off, it failed to reach orbit due to an upper stage malfunction. Relativity Space, the private space launch company, noted that the rocket’s first stage, powered by nine Aeon 1 methane-fueled engines, had worked as planned, passing through the region of maximum dynamic pressure known as “Max-Q” 80 seconds after liftoff.
However, after two minutes and 45 seconds, the stage separation took place, and the rocket’s single Aeon Vacuum upper stage engine ignited. The footage showed the plume flickering seconds after ignition, and telemetry on the company’s webcast of the launch indicated that the vehicle was slowing.
Mission control declared an anomaly with the upper stage five minutes after liftoff, but didn’t immediately disclose additional details about the failure.
Today’s launch proved Relativity’s 3D-printed rocket technologies that will enable our next vehicle, Terran R. We successfully made it through Max-Q, the highest stress state on our printed structures. This is the biggest proof point for our novel additive manufacturing approach.… pic.twitter.com/9iaFVwYoqe— Relativity Space (@relativityspace) March 23, 2023
The company was pleased with the earlier phases of the flight despite the failure to reach orbit. Relativity Space emphasized that merely getting through Max-Q would be a significant milestone, demonstrating the integrity of the rocket’s 3D-printed structure.
Relativity’s CEO and co-founder, Tim Ellis, wrote in a series of tweets before the first launch attempt, “This will essentially prove the viability of using additive manufacturing tech to produce products that fly.” The rocket did not carry a satellite payload, only a small 3D-printed component from the company’s first printer.
Relativity Space is developing a much larger, fully reusable launch vehicle, Terran R, which it plans to launch as soon as 2024. Terran 1, which can place up to 1,250 kilograms into orbit, is a technology pathfinder for Terran R, with a payload capacity of about 20,000 kilograms.
Arwa Tizani Kelly, technical program manager for test and launch at Relativity, stated during the webcast that “Today’s flight data will be invaluable to our team as we look to further improve our rockets, including Terran R.”
Relativity Space scrubbed its first Terran 1 launch attempt on March 8 because of a problem with ground systems that were unable to get liquid oxygen propellant in the rocket’s upper stage to the right temperature.
The company tried again three days later, but two countdowns were aborted during a three-hour window, one because of a sensor reading just 0.5 seconds before liftoff and the other because of a drop in fuel pressure in the upper stage at T-45 seconds.
Although the company was able to correct both problems, it had to work around airspace limitations on the Eastern Range during the busy spring break travel season. Moving from an afternoon launch window, used for the first two launch attempts, to one at night reduced airspace conflicts.
The company did not announce plans for another Terran 1 launch attempt before the launch or if they would perform one at all. Before the first launch attempt, Ellis suggested that the company might skip ahead to Terran R, depending on the feedback the company got from its customers.
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