Rocket boosters

Rocket startup builds giant 3D-printing robot for new space hardware

Image credit: Dreamstime

A Los Angeles startup company is aiming to produce essential new space hardware, such as rockets and accompanying launch materials, as well as other industries' manufacturing demands, using its enlarged 3D printer.

Rocket builder Relativity Space has built a giant 3D-printing robot that could allow the company to construct all kinds of large-format products besides the rockets it plans to launch, Relativity's chief executive Tim Ellis said.

The LA-based startup is targeting the debut launch of its mostly 3D-printed flagship rocket Terran 1 for the end of this year, Ellis said. The rocket is one of a handful of small US launch vehicles being offered by new companies to send small satellites into orbit.

Relativity's upgraded 3D printer, the latest in a lineup named Stargate, will primarily be used to build its bigger, next-generation Terran R rocket, Ellis said, adding that the company might also explore projects in such areas as clean energy and "materials for other applications."

“This large-format metal 3D printing... really means that we’re just starting with rockets. As this technology matures and we’re showing that we can build it and develop it ourselves, then we will be able to take on other projects,” he said, speaking to Reuters.

Relativity Space is already working with a nuclear fusion company to use the new 3D printer to print parts of a fusion reactor, although Ellis declined to name them, citing a non-disclosure agreement.

The rocket production lines have been centred on Relativity Space's in-house 3D printers in the hope that they give them an edge among competitors in order to simplify the design and manufacturing of rocket parts and engines.

The new printer is seven to 12 times faster than previous versions and is designed to print four Terran R rockets per year, Ellis said, adding that Relativity already has $1.2bn-worth of Terran R launch contracts so far.

Relativity's US rivals, such as Astra Space and Rocket Lab, are also offering side products, such as satellite parts, in order to bring in more revenue amid costly and time-consuming rocket development projects.

Global interest in fusion, a nascent form of power generation, is rising amid increased needs to cut carbon emissions. It is also envisioned by scientists as a potentially crucial energy source for planned habitats on the Moon.

3D printing increasingly finds itself utilised in a wide variety of applications, from 3D-printing better, stronger stainless steel, to 3D-printing seed-impregnated soil to build living green walls and roofs and the next generation of hypercars.

With this greater adoption of 3D printing, new issues arise. E&T recently spoke to the co-founder of start-up PrintParts about its tagging technology for materials used in additive manufacturing, which aims to address traceability barriers related to 3D-printing components and the dangers of counterfeit parts.

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