Relativity Space Will Make 3D Printed Reusable Rocket at Near Falcon 9 Scale

Relativity Space has raised a $650 million Series E. They have raised over $1.2 billion. Relativity’s post-money valuation now stands at $4.2 billion.

They will make the heavy-lift, fully reusable two-stage rocket called the Terran R. Their first rocket is the Terran 1 and it is scheduled for a first orbital flight at the end of 2021.

The new rocket, Terran R, will be just a bit smaller than the SpaceX Falcon 9. Terran R is 216 feet tall while the Falcon 9 is 230 feet tall. Terran R will have a 20000 pound max payload while Falcon 9 has 22500 pounds of max payload.

Terran R will be 3D printed and built in 60 days.

Relativity Space wants to have the following advantages:
Reliability: 100x Fewer Parts
Speed: 10x Faster Production Time
Flexibility: No Fixed Tooling and a Simple Supply Chain
Optimization: Compounding Iteration Quality and Time Improvements

100X LESS PARTS
RADICALLY SIMPLIFIED MANUFACTURING
By fusing 3D printing, artificial intelligence, and autonomous robotics, Relativity is printing its rockets’ structure and engines, significantly reducing touch points and lead times, simplifying the supply chain, and increasing overall system reliability. Relativity can create its rockets, Terran 1 and Terran R, from raw material within 60 days.

TERRAN R
FIRST FULLY REUSABLE, ENTIRELY 3D-PRINTED ROCKET
Created in Relativity’s Factory of the Future, Terran R is fully reusable including its engines, first stage, second stage, and payload fairing, and will be capable of launching over 20,000kg to low Earth orbit (LEO) in reusable configuration.

Terran R will launch from Cape Canaveral, starting in 2024.

INSPIRED BY NATURE
DESIGNED FOR THE FUTURE
Terran R has unique aerodynamic features with algorithmically generated and optimized structures. Relativity’s proprietary 3D printing process is enabled by software and data-driven manufacturing, exotic 3D printed materials, and unique design geometries that are not possible with traditional manufacturing, driving a faster rate of compounding progress and iteration in the industry.

FULLY REUSABLE
MADE FOR NEXT-GEN SATELLITE LAUNCHES, AND MULTIPLANETARY TRANSPORT
Terran R provides both commercial and government customers affordable access to space, in LEO and beyond. Terran R helps accommodate the company’s growing pipeline of commercial interest and will also eventually offer customers a point-to-point space freighter capable of missions between the Earth, Moon and Mars.

WORLD’S LARGEST
3D METAL PRINTERS
ROCKETS BUILT AND FLOWN IN DAYS


Relativity’s proprietary Factory of the Future centers on Stargate, the world’s largest metal 3D printers, that create Terran 1, the world’s first 3D printed rocket, and the first fully reusable, entirely 3D printed rocket, Terran R, from raw material to flight in 60 days. Relativity’s Stargate printers’ patented technology enables an entirely new value chain and innovative structural designs that make Terran 1 and Terran R possible. By developing its Factory of the Future and rockets together, Relativity accelerates its ability to improve design, production, quality, and speed.

Zero fixed tooling and radical part count reduction

Faster design iterations and part optimizations

Real-time quality control and part inspection

Sensor and analytics-driven machine learning

SOURCES- Relativity Space
Written by Brian Wang, Nextbigfuture.com

74 thoughts on “Relativity Space Will Make 3D Printed Reusable Rocket at Near Falcon 9 Scale”

  1. That's the one. Not the best book I've ever read, but it was pretty good, with some interesting concepts.

    A major departure from the guy's normal work, I was disappointed to find out he'd written nothing else that was similar.

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  2. That's one of the reasons that I'm not comfortable with Drexler.

    He's ALL about government oversight and complete DRM style control of everyone's nano-factories.

    (I remember reading some SF novel where the protagonists had the only free nano-factory, which a research group had put together as an unofficial skunk-works project in the brief time period before Big BRother stepped in an clamped down full control over everything.)

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  3. 100% x-ray inspection of all parts lets you push performance a lot further than all those designs that need to add in extra material to allow for 1/20 parts have a flaw somewhere. Which is why it's used for very expensive things like jet turbines.

    You also can use higher performance and lighter weight construction techniques, that normally are shunned because they are risky and/or difficult to cheaply inspect.

    A classic example is complex carbon fibre laminated parts. Simple parts are made thicker and heavier than they theoretically could be, to allow for voids and delamination unless you can do 100% internal inspection. Sufficiently complex shapes are often not any lighter than a metal part if you need to make such allowances.

    If it gets cheap enough to do (because automated) we can see improvements in all sorts of manufacturing.

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  4. I remember that book. It was great (at the time, I was still in high school).

    I think it was https://www.amazon.com.au/gp/product/1930997795/ref=dbs_a_def_rwt_bibl_vppi_i6

    It was apparently influenced a lot by War in 2080, by the same author, a non-fiction study into different weapons and how they might develop in the future (book written in 1980). I haven't read it since the mid 1980s but I seem to remember him predicting that small, cheap, remote controlled or autonomous drone type craft would become the next big thing. Which prediction has aged pretty well.

    Said book would probably appeal a lot to readers of this site. THough it is at least partly a historical document at this point.

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  5. Or we could just hack China for the tech if they are done hacking everyone else.

    But yes, jet engines (prior to the Chinese hacking, of course) were pretty much only built by players with many, many decades of experience at it. Same thing with many other things, I expect.

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  6. Thanx! Looks entirely planet chauvinist from clip. O'Neill has the popular big picture of near/far future abundance/get pregnant now in Space, but the main question is much more broadly applicable. Those who have the Physics understanding behind the O'Neill observations will see, for example, that most of what you see in the clip would be far better in mirc0g. And so, we need micr0g capabilities for the lunar base. We thus need orbital Gateway micr0g lunar base, with the lunar g stuff also in orbit, as that is easy to fake if needed. OR, we need two bases. OR we will get just a surface base. That is what the planet people want. An important question!

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  7. I recall reading one SF novel where they had a wormhole generating technology, but it could not under any circumstances be safely used to create a wormhole larger than about 2cm.

    They ended up shoving a Von Neumann replicator designed so all the pieces would fit through that hole, to build large structures on the other side. How they got the crew through was really nasty, and required very advanced medical technology to survive…

    Anyway, the replicator actually spent most of its efforts repairing itself, as all it was really capable of was shoddy work.

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  8. The problem, essentially, is that building a 'clunking replicator' is very interdisciplinary, and that a lot of the information you need has never been published.

    A huge amount of the data and technique our industrial civilization relies on is proprietary, or 'black art' passed down from engineer to engineer. If tomorrow you had to reboot industrial civilization from just publicly available information, you might have to start from 19th century tech in some areas, and replicate the progress to today's tech all over again, to relearn that occult knowledge. (Though I'm sure it would go a lot faster the second time, because some of it IS public.)

    One consequence of this is that if you set out to build a 'clunking replicator' without access to all that hidden information, you'd end up producing inferior products inefficiently. And even doing that would require enormous effort.

    To reduce the size of the replicator to less than "small country" sized, you'd probably also have to deliberately reduce the available processes you could use, which would also tend to reduce efficiency and quality.

    For example: There's no reason in principle you couldn't manufacture practically everything using molecular beam epitaxy, a process normally used only for integrated circuits. Nobody ever uses it for creating structural members, or bearings, or electric motors, but it could be used that way.

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  9. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TNHZDLpgwjY
    Oh definitely worth a watch. The plant I believe is the one in the background but could also be for processing the mineral they are there to mine.
    Yea, Bezos is big on O'Neills and I think that is the better idea. You have complete control of your environment, including gravity and location. Can't with a planet. Yet.

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  10. That does bad. However, I do keep thinking that with the nanotech version, you would probably have the nano-machines be capable of building something, perhaps the size of a shoebox, but big enough we could find it, which would contain the controlling computer, memory storage, and the capability to mass produce more nanobots. It would also have many failsafes, starting with the nanobots needing to be replaced regularly. The shoebox size device (or matchbox size, or blue whale size) would permit us to deactivate it remotely, even if it were heavily shielded or deep underground.

    Once down, the nanobots would cease receiving instructions and shutdown, or fall to planned obsolescence, as replacements and/or repairs and maintenance ceased.

    The shoebox would also have at least three completely identical computer systems that would have to vote before doing anything. If the vote was ever less than unanimous, repairs would be made to the third by the other two. If all three were in disagreement with each other, then it would shutdown and signal for human intervention. And, of course, only nanobots directed by a functional shoebox could make another shoebox, and the number made could be subject to human directives.

    Being cheap, could even put one in my parking garage with raw materials. Garage would then be cleaned and repaired as it was when brand new. It could even gain decorative features and be pigeon-proofed.

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  11. I'd be surprised if a variety of rich folks aren't working toward this. Elon Musk would be a natural. Like the Boring company technology (and Tesla, and even Neuralink) such things would be invaluable on a colony planet or in space.

    It is also difficult to see how humans on an Earth that possesses hundreds of millions of the replicators (or equivalent nanotech), each with a vast library of templates and designs, could ever completely lose their technological capability, even after various apocalyptic scenarios (unless, of course, everyone dies and it pretty much happens all at once).

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  12. I'm already designing tooling for some parts where they demand 100% inspection of some key dimensions. And that's the direction industry is headed, clearly. "Closing the loop" where everything is 100% automated including inspection is challenging, but it's challenging in an "expend the engineering resources" sort of way, not a "need to make fundamental breakthroughs" sort of way.

    It's just a huge load of conventional engineering. 

    I think the biggest challenge is to get some organization that can actually afford to hire the resources to adopt this as an explicit goal.

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  13. It will be back. Raw materials would be the only limitation. It is too convenient and powerful to be kept in the hands of Makers only.

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  14. LOL! No, they were inspired by SpaceX, and obviously so. Did anybody even USE gridfins before SpaceX?

    I suppose the continuous curves look "organic", to a designer, unlike the Starship's angular welded look. I suspect that the Starship will evolve in that direction once in use, as they find heat concentrations in reentry and work to eliminate them. Organic curves are a little hard to manufacture the way SpaceX is prototyping things.

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  15. And that's fair enough, but it shouldn't take the form of the SLS, but instead maybe Bezos getting a politely worded, "Get off your ass and start launching stuff!" note.

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  16. Remember the Foresight Institute? Started out trying to advance the arrival of nanofactories, and anticipate what would be needed.

    Then they got so scared that they were making all sorts of insane proposals for top to bottom DRM, nanofactories that could only make government approved designs, that would shut down if they weren't in constant communications with a central regulator that could push out updates, right up to the nanofac manufacturing something you didn't ask for then bricking itself.

    It was insane what they were proposing.

    Some people look at a world where anybody can manufacture anything they have the plans for, and freak out.

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  17. No, there are two forms of self-replicating factories. The nanotech factory, which could potentially be so small you'd lose it in your pocket. And the "clunking replicator", which consists of a full set of conventional manufacturing plants, as Snazster says, covering endless acres and costing a fortune, only fully automated.

    The nanotech one would be much nicer, only we don't have nanotechnology.

    The clunking replicator would be big and expensive, (Well, the first one would be expensive!) but we pretty much have the technology now, we just need to finish the automation end.

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  18. The current administration is proposing to define guns so broadly, for purposes of getting at DIY guns, that if you took their proposals literally Ace Hardware and Home Depot are selling guns. Just because they're selling materials a functioning gun can be made from in one day, in a properly equipped shop.

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  19. Yes, the US based print-your-own-guns movement is simultaneously

    1. Pushing through developments in this area quite quickly. Using techniques like 3D printing tools that then electrochemically machine parts so you can get hardened steel rifled barrels made to firearm level tolerances in someone's 8th floor apartment.
    2. Providing a great huge incentive and excuse for cracking down hard on just such technology.
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  20. I think the shuttle program collapse has left the US government with a strong flinch reaction to having only one space launch provider.

    Last thing they want is for SpaceX to go down for some reason and they have to rent space from China or someone.

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  21. visual is only part of it – various xray and other scanning may create AI-confirmable images. Amazing amount of medical imagery is confirmed by AI.

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  22. seems like that could also lead to the 'war of the world' ending (spoilers) – where the invasion/ uprising is strangled by a condition of the invaders themselves (which was earth infection, i think) – i.e. bad robot workmanship, in this case.

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  23. interesting. how much of ISS erection was 'ikea like' plug-and-play and how much was actual fasten and attach through earth-like erection methods…

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  24. now that's a solid scifi (end of the world) premise: no collar bot finishes job, blue collar bot checks it, and white collar bot signs-off on overall job – same network, same bot company/ software. The End does not come from Skynet above, but the assembly lines and industrial heartland where humans no longer toil…

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  25. interesting. satelite repair is limited and likely modular switch-out system. Actual repair and manufacture would seem to need enclosure.

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  26. I would have guessed the bottleneck would be quality control. 100% inspected welds and connections are a nightmare in an old-skool peopled-industry enviroment. Would the machine be checking the machine?

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  27. "first fully reusable, entirely 3D printed rocket, Terran R, from raw material to flight "

    'Raw material'? like iron ore to steel? some sort of carbon rich material to plastics? …

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  28. I want to see the first factory that can reconfigure itself to build almost anything, given the raw materials, including everything needed for a copy of itself.

    The first one would probably be huge, covering endless acres and cost a fortune. But you only need the one. Improvements would be incorporated and it would be a race to see how small and efficient it could become.

    Possibly it could become sufficiently small enough (say, the size of a small electric car) and efficient enough, that every estate, neighborhood, or even house, might have one. Of course, a smaller one could build a bigger one and a bigger one could build a smaller one, and they could also make raw material resource gathering systems (automatic mines, distillation plants, etc.).

    RepRap.org is trying to approach this with a DIY machine that starts small and stays small, but I think that will take a lot longer. Then again, they won't have a couple of billionaires taking all the profits, if and when they get there.

    Although . . . one of my predictions for this century is that there will be a concerted effort to limit DIY manufacturing by those favoring status quo methods, the older and larger manufacturing entities.

    They may already be taking the first steps in this direction by declaring DIY 3d printing and such to be dangerous, toxic, environmentally unsound, wasteful, and an enabler for people to make counterfeit products, many of which might even be unsafe. They could also resort to patent-trolling.

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  29. There IS a strong desire on the part of a lot of governments for dual sourcing of launch services. After all, if your only source of launch services refuses to launch your payload, or gets shut down over legal or regulatory issues, you're out of luck.

    Then there's the question of launching payloads into oddball orbits that you can't ride share into. SpaceX has, IIRC, made noises about phasing out the Falcon rockets after the Starship is fully proven out. So there might be a market for mid-sized rocket service.

    https://www.space.com/38323-spacex-phasing-out-rockets-for-mars-bfr-spaceship.html

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  30. good, obvious, the way to go.
    But why shouldn't SpaceX have it already done by 2022 before any of this ideas does fly?
    After Starship nobody needs a 20ton-lift household-rocket flare, and even if there is a market, SpaceX can/will do this with its engineers after Starhip/moonrocket are done.
    With their pace of working, they will get this all done before even a competitor roles out their first proto. (powerpoint presentation excluded)

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  31. The article says they can make a Terran R in 60 days. It also claims they build 10 times faster.

    Is that supposed to imply that SpaceX requires 600 days to make a Falcon 9? I don't know what the production time is for a Falcon 9, but I'd be very surprised if it is anywhere near 600 days.

    I notice that the more complete quote is that they can make a Terran R from raw materials in 60 days. Does SpaceX start building a Falcon 9 with raw materials? If not, that could be the source of the apparent discrepancy — not measuring comparable things.

    Can any of you tell better than I whether the production rate comparison is meaningful, and if so, put accurate numbers on the rate for building Falcon 9?

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  32. Correct, but he makes the same units error for the payload of the Falcon 9, so the comparison between the two is roughly correct.

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  33. Now that Elon has lit a fire under the entire industry, the parallel evolution (cough cough copycats) designs are going to be interesting since they rely on existence proofs. Though modeling Terran R on SS/SH might not work out due to density. You need to be fluffy to do big blunt body high altitude lingering reentry for a second stage on a TSTO. They are going to have a hard time getting the weight down to achieve that, so they may end flying a reentry profile like those envisioned for almost wingless shuttle style designs (meaning hotter).

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  34. I think they are wire welding 3D forming the tanks and manifolds as one piece right now for Terran 1, so that at the very least is being done.

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  35. https://www.marketwatch.com/story/jeff-bezos-planned-space-flight-once-again-shows-how-long-term-thinking-pays-off-11623686210?siteid=yhoof2

    "Most of all, though, Bezos has a vision that’s a hundred years out,
    thinking at a distance that no one else thinks. The rest of us may be
    wondering whether he’ll survive the launch. He’s thinking about how many people will be living on Mars generations from now. He’s thinking about his legacy in human exploration." Mars!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Otherwise good account.

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  36. While I agree on the issue of microstructural control for optimum properties, the company website does claim specifically that they have 3D printed the payload fairing and the 1st and 2nd stage in addition to the engines.

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  37. And the press release is straight out of a 2nd year marketing course.

    INSPIRED BY NATURE

    DESIGNED FOR THE FUTURE

    What part of nature is a 2 stage rocket inspired by, pray tell? A squid?

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  38. Ironically, high end electronics can be made by processes similar to 3d printing, such as direct write lithography. They're typically not, that's reserved for the masks, because the throughput isn't impressive, it's serial, not parallel, manufacturing approach. (Though it can, similar to FDM, benefit from a limited degree of parallelism.)

    It's the things like electric motors that don't do well with 3d printing. Things with moving parts and precision fits. Though you CAN make motors that way, they're just not great performance.

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  39. The voxelated stuff *can* do anything, but all we care about is the result, not how cool the process looks. It has huge advantage in Space, as these other machines are not yet there. But they will be, themselves mostly additive mfg'd perhaps. The micr0g factor will speed the effort up quite quickly when we figure out something useful that can only be done that way.

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  40. Great minds think alike. Have not seen the movie, did not know that. It is a complex problem deciding when to launch factories rather than product. If you watch Bezos, you will see an almost mathematical solution to this very O'Neill question. Musk has no plans except planet surface to planet surface transport. But, whatever the driving idea, he is building rockets that work.

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  41. From what I understand, both stages are going to land in the water. That would be a big disadvantage over Starship, maybe even Falcon 9. Cleaning the engines and tanks after a water landing will likely be labor and time intensive. But I might be wrong.

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  42. I have high hopes for them. If they can rapidly produce the parts for a very low cost and produce a good mid-sized fully reusable launch platform, then that will take them places.

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  43. No one person can keep the lead in innovation for long. Not in our world anyway. For every new technological breakthrough, someone else will come and find a better way to implement it. Companies new innovation curve is parabolic in nature, not a straight line, it is impossible to straighten it up forever.

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  44. Yea. Funny that is exactly how things were handled in Avatar. The big plant in the back you see is a stereolithography plant that made almost everything. The only thing shipped were things that couldn't be made on site- namely high end electronics

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  45. I love SpaceX, but you’re right, we absolutely need them to have real competition to keep them sharp and constantly pushing the envelope.

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  46. But the point of self-reproducing factories is to break the link between quantity of human labor, and industrial output.

    Life in space, even on a relatively benign world like Mars, will require higher ratios of infrastructure to population than life on Earth. Enormously higher once you get out of gravity wells and try living in orbit. And there are things we'd like to do, such as interstellar travel, that are going to require still exponentially greater amounts of infrastructure per person.

    So, while I have nothing against traditional chemical and manufacturing machines, and the good o' people who know how to use them, (I'm a tooling engineer, and the son of a master machinist, I've spent most of my life in and around factories.) we need to move beyond that to be successful in space. We need to exploit self-replication.

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  47. They could also send traditional chemical and manufacturing machines and the good ol' people who know how to use them.

    And find replacements for ores and raw materials that aren't found out of Earth (like for oil used to create monomers and polymers).

    One of the the points of reusable big rockets is to stop being so picky about what you can bring to space.

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  48. 3D printing was made for liquid fueled rocket engine pintles. Even the engine bells are well suited for it. It's pretty good for taking the last increment of weight out of brackets and trusses, too. But, yes, it sucks for things like electric motors, hydraulics, large fuel tanks…

    But I tend to think we won't get self-reproducing factories going until we're willing to accept that a lot of the parts will have lousy performance due to not being made by the ideal means out of the ideal material.

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  49. Methinks there is a spirited amount of over-statement … involved.  

    For instance, one doesn't 3-D print the 'skin' business that covers the outside of a rocket. Materials Science has had what, a nice 100+ year run on making grain-oriented hot-and-cold rolled metals, laminates, sheets.  Billions of kilometers of the stuff. The machines might be big, but ultimately no one 'rolls on site'.  Its shipped in, snipped to sections, curled on rolling brakes, punched and/or drilled to exacting spec for rivets or other fasteners.  Then assembled. 

    Another for instance, motors are not 3D printed. All those windings, wound from wire. Wire pulled through dies, coated with really awesome insulating films.  The endlessly creative assortment of core grain-oriented iron shims are punched out of again, externally sourced roll stock. Stock made in factories with exacting metallurgical alloying requirements, heat treatments, hot-and-cold material rolling.  To orient the magnetic grains for best performance. Which can be HYUGE compared to non-oriented grain materials.  

    Then there are all the rubber, plastic, elastic-sintered parts.  VERY specialized materials … best done elsewhere. 

    I really expect that contrary to the SciFi pictures, mostly the 3D printing will be for volumetrically complex objects, fittings, cowlings, made from materials that happen to perform quite well, done that way.

    ⋅-⋅-⋅ Just saying, ⋅-⋅-⋅
    ⋅-=≡ GoatGuy ✓ ≡=-⋅

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  50. My general impression is that the engines are the leading additive mfg accomplishment by several so far. Soooo complex, holes and channels.

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  51. Exactly. If you can't figure out micr0g techniques, supply g! Your choice, at the time, switch back and forth. Alloys, here we come!

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  52. Exactly. No need to wait for computer chips to be mfg'd in space before going. But, it would be a great place to mfg computer chips, don't get me wrong!

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  53. You can always overcome a lot of this by simulating at least some amount of gravity with a facility with a rotational section. Or two tethered together. Seems hard now but we are getting so close.

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  54. If you are not going to Mars only, you need to start building payload. The rockets, cargo esp, are almost ready.

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  55. What I was thinking. Or maybe a hybrid process.
    Print on Earth what you can't in space[ let's say- the engine components or some] and print the fuselage in high orbit with in situ resources[let's say it lunar and we build around the moon] and put piece them together.

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  56. Thus the emergency nature of learning to do it in micr0g. "important differences" there too. Probably solutions as well as problems. Related stuff like vapor deposition. Trivial, but the term "3D printing" comes from the old style layer by layer frame mounted type, or even the laser exposed layers in liquid. The layers were seen as similar to layers of ink being printed, one after another, to make a "printed" solid. Additive mfg is more general, and looks like what they do, as the printer head is following the rocket shape in the photo, not one layer at a time. I wuz a printer, so have to defend my turf.

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  57. Yup. That's why I wish them luck: building rockets on a 3D printer on Earth is the first step towards doing it in space.

    An important milestone towards space manufacturing.

    I won't be easy, though. 3D printing has important differences with other material processing and manufacturing technologies to warrant some important R&D.

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  58. If the parts for the printer are stripped of the g force related support mass, the whole thing could be launched and build stuff in Space. Even if the material is launched from Earth at first, until lunar mining equipment is printed, the output is light and simple as it does not need to be folded or launched. "a point-to-point space freighter capable of missions between the Earth, Moon and Mars." Such limited imagination for a rocket company. But, same as Musk. "The High Frontier" G. K. O'Neill will help this problem big time.

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  59. I wish them luck. With full 3D printing, they're gonna need it.

    And we definitely need some competition for SpaceX.

    A 20 ton to LEO fully reusable vehicle still has been the stuff of dreams for space fans for a while, covering a lot of space launch needs.

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