Entirely automated giant 3D printing and robotics rocket factory

Relativity Space wants is reimagining the way rockets are built and flown with massive 3D printing.

* 100X fewer parts.
* 10X faster iteration
* entirely 3D printed

Relativity is creating the first autonomous rocket factory.

Their long-term goal is the 3D printing the first rocket made from Mars.

Relativity is creating the rocket factory of the future:
An entirely 3D printed rocket
A proprietary building-sized metal 3D printer – Stargate
Intelligent hardware + software
Robotic automation enabled by low part count

Complete printing of our rocket, Terran 1, reduces vehicle part count from nearly 100,000 to under 1,000 components – and is the first step toward an entirely autonomous factory.

They are accelerating the design process by removing barriers between the digital and physical worlds.

The first result is their engine, Aeon 1:
Over 70 tests in less than 12 months’ development from scratch
No compromises: one of the highest-performance-per-dollar rocket engines in the world
Oxygen + methane propellants
Highly scalable architecture

The going rate for a rocket launch is about $100 million; Relativity says that in four years its price will be $10 million. A few of companies have 3D-printed whole rocket engines and other parts to make them more durable (molten metal shaped into a single part is less vulnerable to wear and tear than a bunch of pieces fitted together), 3D printing tends to be slower and more expensive than old-fashioned welding. Faced with that problem, Relativity decided the solution was to build its own printers.

The printers, among the largest ever, consist of 18-foot-tall robotic arms equipped with lasers that can melt a steady stream of aluminum wire into liquid metal for shaping. Ellis and Noone say a handful of the arms can work together to create the rocket’s entire body as a single piece, guided by custom software that monitors their speed and the metal’s integrity. They haven’t performed that task yet, but the printers have already made a 7-foot-wide, 14-foot-tall fuel tank in a few days and an engine in a week and a half. Relativity says a whole rocket can be built within a month if the company makes good on the promise of its technology. By comparison, the most efficient rocket-making processes today require hundreds of people working for many months.

* space shuttle had 2.5 million moving parts
* SpaceX and Blue Origin about 100,000 moving parts per rocket
* they want to get to 1,000 moving parts, fewer than a car.

Obviously success with massive 3D printing and transformation of rocket factories should then lead to
* transformation of satellite construction
* transformation of airplane construction
* transformation of drone construction
* transformation of automobile and truck construction
* transformation of military vehicles
* transformation of ships
* further transformation of robotics and factories
* transformation of fairly large power production and other industrial products

By mid-2020 Relativity Space plans to print a 90-foot-tall, 7-foot-wide rocket that can carry 2,000 pounds to orbit; the founders say it’ll fly in 2021.

New Zealand’s Rocket Lab also uses a lot of 3D printing and plans commercial launches in a matter of months, charging clients $5 million a flight, and a handful of other rocket startups are set to follow over the next two years.

Relativity Space has some other markets like US military bases. Military bases need more capability to make a wider range of products. The US Navy needs to make more things on board their ships. More 3D printing capabilities can improve the global supply chain.

26 thoughts on “Entirely automated giant 3D printing and robotics rocket factory”

  1. …space-elevator (orbital station bike-wheel-1g)… geostationary orbit, a huge “bike-wheel” is gyrating around its own axis for have 1g-centrifugal. Wheel held in place with 4 CABLES (each cable with a track for Train, for both trains crossing ↓↑) FORMING THE STRUCTURE OF A RHOMBUS♦ (minor diagonal of rhombus is the gyration-axis of the Station-Wheel)…rhombus´s below, the carbon nanotubes Track towards Earth…rhombus´s above, the Cable towards a higher counterweight… if…WHEEL´s RADIUS = 250 mts… Wheel gyration´s-Axis length = rhombus´s minor diagonal = ½ Wheel´s radius = 125 mts (axis could be a resistant hollow tube with for example 20 mts in diameter with an adequate wall´s thickness, hollow which could serving how tank of anything, e.g. air, or tank of frozen water storage no totally full, for volume expansion from liquid to ice without tank, Axis, breaking, thawing using solar-heat)… Cable´s length of the rhombus´s side = Wheel diameter = 500 mts ((also how Wheel´s supporting, instead of a rhombus, can be a narrow Rectangular structure ▄▄▄▄▄▄ of rigid girder with dimensions sides slightly majors than Wheel´s diameter and wide, e.g. Wheel´s diameter 500 mts and wide 50 mts…rectangle´s sides: 510 mts length, 60 mts wide. Rectangle with a cable/track (length=Wheel´s diameter) in each vertex, forming a long isosceles triangle ──────◄at both rectangle´s minor sides►──────)). Wheel´s ZONE-1g: habitable length = 1571 mts*50 mts wide (separation at both sides between Cable and Circumference of the gyratory Wheel, approx.= 5 mts, adjusting this separation installing an Axis with major or minor length, as much as shorter Axis…stronger and, for easy train´s passing, an angle nearer to 180º value in both rhombus´s-vertex, minor diagonal, where are the Big Soundless-♫-Bearings of Axis´s-insertion…a few Electrical Motors fed with Solar-Energy maintain automatically the gyration-speed counteracting the slow braking by friction from the Bearings…besides of Bearings: main Maglev system also for the gyration and Axis´s supporting, leaving the Bearings only how secondary security system…with a slight roominess between each Bearing and its exterior subjection, into the roominess all around…little solid Pistons radial extensible and retractable… Axis´s subjection: extensible ON, with Bearings; extensible OFF, with Maglev. With a sufficient cables tension coming from the counterweight, if Axis resists: the rhombus structure is undeformable)*10 Floors with 25 mts in height each one, gyrating 360º each 31 seconds, angular-speed = 11.61º/sec, linear-speed (tangential) = 182 kms/h… Station-Wheel´s GYRATION: AXIS IN PERPENDICULAR (90º) ORIENTATION TO THE ORBITAL TRAJECTORY…and so, while Station-Wheel follows its geostationary orbit, the Wheel does Not changes the spatial-orientation of its axis, and thus there are Not Precession forces actuating (and thus there is Not torsion´s force against Track)…

  2. Nobel Prize physiology 2017… 3D Bioprinting-Immortality (biological timers)… Forever young with modified Biological Timers… Which are the biological timers?, where are them? (genes, hypothalamus…), how functioning them?, how can modify them (telomerase…) for maintenance the hormones production, enzymes, cellular regeneration…all Eternity at same level of the 18 years old?… Have to accelerate Research about Memory and the Space´s Colonization… Immortality comes…

  3. But how much supply infrastructure does it take to build a 3d printer like this? In other words, how soon can we make a 3d printer that can deploy all the mining, smelting, and resource and energy gathering kit it needs to replicate itself? When will we see self-reps roaming across Mars, building up industrial capacity on an exponential scale?

  4. Bob Truax’s “Big Dumb Booster” potentially had basically one part: A pressurized tank integrated with a pressure-fed combustion and expansion bell. I’m not sure why no one has bothered with this pressure-fed approach to simplification.

  5. If Space truly is the “next big thing” — like the internet was in mid-90s — if this great space goldrush is going to happen, then I don’t see where the supporting technologies and talent pool are, to be able to follow up and sustain the big splash these new rockets are going to make in the marketplace. Many aerospace industry veterans are retiring, with their talent and experience disappearing from industry with them. Who’s going to replace them all? Are community colleges suddenly going to offer 2-year crash training programs in aerospace engineering? Space technology is going to remain exotic and expensive for awhile yet.

    • Maybe if we think of computers in 1980 instead of internet in the mid ’90s. We still don’t have huge profits, we still have computers more as something you see on TV rather than in your own life, we don’t have large numbers of trained experienced workers in the field, and we are still waiting to see what will actually be the form that makes real money.

      • So in order for space to become as mass-participative as the internet revolution, we’ll need spaceships to become like cars (which is not going to happen anytime soon). For the near future, space would be like boat trips to the Arctic/Antarctic. You might be able to have some cruises through there, and maybe a few base-stations to visit, but that’s about it.

  6. “The going rate for a rocket launch is about $100 million; Relativity says that in four years its price will be $10 million.”
    Whoever made this statement is clueless, the going rate is dependent on size, $100M rockets carries a lot more than 2000lbs, and there are already rockets that carries >2000lbs for $10M (3400lbs/400km/30° to be precise)
    These misleading numbers don’t really inspire confidence in the company’s credibility…

  7. Good luck to them, but wishes are just wishes, it’s going to take a lot more than “reimagining” to scale it up from the one in picture
    Like all things you can scale the dimension but you can’t scale material properties, and you can’t hide from cube squared law
    In this case it’s proberbly a good idea to talk about the printing process and part mechanical performance rather than focus entirely on automation.

    • That (idea) comes to me whenever I think about the future: if instead of thinking only of “one massive brain fâhrt” (such as 3-D additive manufacture as THE answer to everything), if instead we think of an assortment of relevant contributing technologies, it seems likely that “cheap mass production” is perhaps more essential than multi-use (or compliments it in a contribution-to-safety-by-fewer-aggregate-uses-per-vehicle sort of way).

      I see nothing wrong with having giant-sized carbon fiber or carbon-kevlar-aramid fiber super-thin pressure vessels made with semi-automated spinners. I see nothing wrong with manufacturing “the motor” at a completely separate facility that is tooled well, automated like 2017 dictates, and makes squeaky-clean motors. I see nothing wrong with dedicated ultra-precise ball-and-roller bearing facilities that get their jobs done perfectly, bearing after bearing. And I see nothing wrong with relegating “the big heat-exchanger expansion cone” to yet another facility that does its additive manufacture to mirror-bright finish.

      Seriously! It isn’t the part-count that matters, but the streamlined production for mass production of everything that contributes to the Thing. I (personally) have no leaning to “fewer connectors, fewer moving parts, fewer sensors, fewer…”, when the assembly is engineered and well thought out.

      There are quite a few videos of manufacturing a host of really complicated MASS MARKET vehicles (and other things). The Car, as a for-instance. Look up the BMW plant detailed Youtube vids. Astounding. Astounding for complexity? Yah, a bit. But more astounding from the total streamlining it has. Streamlining (and separation) of making engines, of assembling sub-assemblies, of lining ’em all up to be assembled and unit-tested toward the ultimate goal of having a smart, tight, clean, working car at the end.

      Rockets – especially if one’s goal is to make a thousand of them – are no different. Specialization, unit-testing, sub-assembly partitioning, specialized machinery to make pieces, to “do stuff”.

      As a final note – notice that so far no one is seriously considering a full 3D “hands free” manufacturing of a car. Not really. Its still all about sub-assemblies, materials science, stream-lining engineering and JIT parts aggregation.


        • Nobody was expecting a gold rush in space, much less in manned space. In fact it’s still pretty much pending to see if this gold rush turns out to be anything more than a mirage.

          The old bay boomer engineers expected a lot back in the 60s and 70s, and many did jump into it, and they are now reaching their retirement age. But up to today only airplanes and satellites have seen a consequent growth since then, attracting some people willing to delve into the professions around them.

          There is indeed a shortage of qualified people. Not just aerospace engineers to make the avionics and ships, but of all kinds of engineers, scientists, technicians, etc. Space-trained ones I mean.

          But how could you train space specialists, if the number of astronauts at any time in the past 50 years or so could be counted with the fingers of your hands? (with another handful waiting for their turn on Earth).

          If SpaceX, Blue Origin, etc. plans come to fruition, a lot of people will indeed need to be trained from scratch about the vicissitudes of life in space. There’s no way around it.

      • Hi Goat, isn’t the goal in gradually reducing the part count of the 3d printer itself to eventually head towards self-replicators? The less parts required to build *anything* means the less infrastructure to support the building of those parts. In today’s economy this is about reducing costs (and of course everyone asks about the impact on jobs). But if we’re thinking way ahead to some sort of utopian post-scarcity economy, isn’t the goal of this sort of exercise an army of self-replicator robot-monster trucks driving across or burrowing into Mars, like an army of giant Jawas transports scavenging materials? Maybe that’s the absurd end-point, and there’s a whole wide spectrum of possibilities between today’s economy and the self-sufficient self-rep. But each step along the way means a step towards *earlier* self-sufficiency of future space colonies, and less trouble manufacturing what you need. Will a future civilisation-seed-starter-kit be reduced to 1000 BFR flights? 100? 10? Dare I say it, 1? Will we end up with a Queen-Bee mothership that lands and sends out drones scavenging all her nutrients and requirements as she sets up a Hive colony, and then we’re all invited to the party? What super-technologies are required in that Queen ship? The frozen seeds and gametes of Earth, like a miniaturised Noah’s ark? Energy generation and harvesting technologies with drones that can seek out appropriate building materials to scavenge and process and generate more energy? Habitat builder drones? 3d biological printing, with all the diodiversity of Earth stored digitally? Who knows? But I love the fact that people are asking these questions, as right now I’m kind of persuaded that any self-replicating ‘seed civilisation’ on Mars will require no less than a million people to justify sending up enough biodiversity to make Mars a true second home for humanity.

  8. …interstellar travel constant acceleration (Sun-Deneb: 1000g)… Earth…the 2 ships that will go formation flying for mutual assisting if there are problems…indestructible structures made of Hexapentas material, awaiting in airport the arrival of passengers… Day 1: zero-speed… THE SHIPS TAKEOFF►… navigation computer places on screen the spacecraft in the center of sphere…spherical\tridimensional\spatial Heading: Deneb… Antimatter rocket engines…ON… Here we go…goooooo!…1g…10g…100g…constant acceleration cruise: 1000g (9.8 kms/sec²)… Inside the living areas (the same as going submerged in water: constant acceleration downwards…less…constant thrust, constant acceleration, from water upwards)…the gravitational transformers, perfectly synchronized with the acceleration, running: 1000g constant acceleration toward the floor ↓↓(motors)↓↓…less…999g constant acceleration toward the ceiling ↑↑(gravitational transformers)↑ = 1g constant acceleration toward the floor↓… 8.5 hours: light-speed = 1c…the fusion reactor as an artificial sun illuminating the immense Vital Support Gardens to lowering, from their comfortable apartments, cheerful passage to the pool…the electromagnetic shield anti-radiation…antigravity fields generator run forward, working: light objects away from the path of the ship…and trajectory ship away from the heavy objects…superluminal-speed > 1c… 42.5 hours: reaches hyperluminal-speed = 5c… Day 508: Half Journey…1000 light years…high hyperluminal-speed = 1435.39c… OFF engines…a few minutes of weightlessness during maneuver…the ship rotates 180º around its axis…motors ON again and… ◄STARTS TO BRAKE… Day 1017 (2.79 years): End Path party…2000 light years…zero-speed… The forever young passage of the 1st Immortal Generation (3D Bioprinting…Telomerase…modified Biological Timers…) disembarks at destination: an extra-stellar planet which came errant to orbit of Deneb giant.

    • OK, that was fun.

      Its amazing what we can think of (or is it?) when one can invoke magic in story telling to solve any shortcoming of the limits of “the story line / physics / reality”.

      The first “Immortal Generation” isn’t going to be very immortal if reprinting the failing parts of one’s mind also – due to entropy, quantum uncertainty and irreversible thermodynamics – degrades gently as it ages to where “spare parts” simply cannot be realistically assembled.

      I’m OK with mortality, actually: living a changing life, an evolving one, one full of challenges, gotchas, rewards and unexpected good luck makes for a meaningful experience. I’m also good with making, raising, watching and guiding the next generation, my replacements too. There’s something very deeply fulfilling to that part of life. Affirmation that your own existence depended upon the same fulfilling “genetic mission” to reproduce. Affirmation that just about the only thing you might be remembered for … are ideas kept by your kith and kin.

      A very, very few of us are remembered for more than that. And of those, even those have found their intellectual “life” just as fulfilling as regular parents find their noisy family. Psychologists have measured thus and determined so.

      But let us also agree: there IS and CAN BE other purposes for living not so much “above” but abreast of the usual reasons. I met a person yesterday in Shell Beach CA, a gentleman my age or younger in a Japanese restaurant. He sported an unusual 1930s flat-rim hat, a thick hand-made wool vest (it was cool), a clearly custom pair of sharp cowboy boots, well checkered and tooled. Beautiful clothes, but all of it the better for its clear wear-and-tear.

      We began to talk after he had a rather long conversation with the Sushi Chef in Japanese, and yet another one in full Thai with one of the pretty waitresses. Our conversation was in University influenced American English, as he was very much a university man. His profession is manifold, but mainly international brokering of feed-hay. His unmarried life is one of adventure, risk-taking, oddities. His studies continue some 30 years following grad school at USLO. I ventured if he felt a loss at not having family, and without hesitation, or any grandstanding, his answer was “yes, and no”. His nuanced replay-of-life-in–30-minutes was one of a 19th century Natural Philosopher / Business Opportunist. The world is full of many things to do, much to see, much to appreciate. It just requires taking the reins and guiding one’s life into the canyons and vaunces therein.

      Anyway, I’m FAR off topic.

      As I was saying, when one can invoke magic as an overriding plot device, in a way, the story grows yawning. I think in many ways this was a problem with the Harry Potter universe. Magic could be invoked at no real personal cost, yet most often wasn’t. Magic was nominally capricious, but always seemed to work when no other enterprise might solve the issue at hand. I could never quite understand why Magic in the HP world wasn’t used for entirely mundane things, regularly. I appreciated Mickey Mouse’s magic in Fantasia more… it made mops move, buckets self-fill. It moved carts stuck in ruts, it made doors open when closed.

      But even it had no cost. And that – in my opinion – is what makes it yawning. No cost but seldom used? Why? I guess because if much-used, it’d become boring. But if it had an imagined steep cost, as Ursula Le Guin’s Earthsea magic had, it becomes more interesting. Her magic had its caprice, but it also had its cost. And the cost was painful, hard, inflexible. It COST the practitioner for anything more sophisticated than encouraging a tough jar to open or calling goats from the fields.

      Again, way off topic. But magic was used no fewer than 5 times in your short paragraph. And I ended up finding the whole premise … a yawn.

      WHY stop at 1,000 G? Oh ‘cuz its a destination’. Harumph. Anti-grav that perfectly balances? Where’s the fun in that? It should vibrate, baby! Hyperluminal? Superluminal? Boring. Antigrav to get rid of obstacles? Why not something more exciting? Infinite energy of “anti-matter” engines? All overcome with magical thinking. Yawn…

      Just saying.

      • I’m reminded of Pratchett and his magic obeying rules such as “the conservation of effort”, where doing something with magic was going to require the same amount of effort as doing it without magic.
        The example being that after 20 years of alchemy and study you would be able to summon nude nubile nymphs to appear in your room, but by then you’ve been so blinded by mercury fumes and addled by brimstone that you’ve forgotten what to do next.

        Likewise there was the (obvious) point that if a wizard uses magic to lift a 50 pound weight from across a 10 foot room, this will apply 500 ft.lbs of torque to the squishy brain that used to be in his skull.

  9. Nice. If they can print out a whole rocket, they can do the same with nearly any other machine. Make many of these printer-factories, and start producing self driving cars, aircraft and drones by the millions.

    This is how we get the abundance of complex and expensive hardware we see in science fiction films (like all the ships, machinery and drones) becoming a lot cheaper and widespread, turning them in commonly used items like cars and computers are today.

    And also how we get self replicating factories on Earth and in space. Which is sort of the explicit aim of this.

  10. Love it. By converting everything to Imperial, it looks bigger.

    90 ft = 27 meters tall
    7 ft = 2.1 meters diameter
    2000 lb = ⁹/₁₀ ton metric payload

    Let’s applaud them, of course. Nothing so far has flown. Making a complicated (irreducibly) manifold for a rocket engine is perfect for 3D printing. The pressures aren’t terribly high, the alumunum is a good material for it. Stainless for some parts is better. Machined turbines is even better. You can do heat-treatments and stress-strain stuff for the high durability parts that “printing” doesn’t accomplish.

    Also strength-to-weight ratios for aluminum sucks for a whole spacecraft. It was obvious back in 1960 when ‘they’ were building the Moon Apollo mission rocketry. Very little has been done in the intervening 57 years to change that viewpoint, except that some aluminum alloys are definitely stronger. But they still have temperature and creep problems. The nature of aluminum’s low melting point.

    I wish them well. I wonder what the market is for 1 ton payload spacecraft.

    The “methane” angle is ME-TOO-ISM. Following the Musk fad. Makes em seem more edgy, I guess. It isn’t a bad binary rocket mixture. Compact, modest cryogenic overhead. Cheap as a fuel. Dirt cheap, actually. Requires “burning faster” to be efficient. Higher chamber pressures. Easier handling. Cheaper spaceport storage. Non-toxic (compared to other more exotic mixtures).


    • I wonder what the market is for 1 ton payload spacecraft.

      On Earth, probably a bunch of cubesats could be launched that way, split the cost per sat and it could get some interesting revenue, I guess.

      But that market looks as it is about to be taken by reusable rockets. Albeit probably some nations won’t like to depend on SpaceX or Blue Origin (that is, USA companies) for small launches. You know, as a matter of having actual options or staying off the radar.

      These rockets probably would be more at home on Mars or the Moon, though. How many tons they can launch to space at Mars or the Moon?

  11. I notice that one of their aspirations is to be the first company to manufacture a rocket on Mars. They see this technology as a way to advance the independence of space colonies, which will be dramatically labor poor.

    This is a step in the direction of self-replicating factories, which will be the real key to our conquering the Solar system.

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