- Relativity Space is an organization which is using 3D printers to print rockets and engine parts among other equipment.
- 3D printing has brought down the time required to assemble rockets and the costs by a huge margin. It has also increased the safety level of the rockets by allowing more tests.
- Relativity Space is set to launch its first rocket in 2024 which if successful would be a revolutionary move for the global space sector.
Relativity Space is a budding space-oriented organization that has slowly evolved to become a strong competitor against SpaceX and Blue Origins. They have achieved something that not even the Jeff Bezos or Elon Musk visionary companies couldn’t imagine. They have completely changed the vision of commercial space flights and their rockets areas comparable in brilliance and engineering as the ones made by the two giants of the aerospace sector. What is even astonishing is the fact that in about 6 years they have managed to completely revolutionize this industry.
Relativity Space’s first launch is scheduled for 2024. As their launch date arrives, a new possibility also paves the way to arrive – the possibility of space becoming more accessible to people and not just to the rich and a privileged few. The key factor which has enabled this breakthrough in the space sector is one piece of machinery known as the- The 3-d Printer.
What is the 3-d Printer?
The 3-d printers used by the space sector are not the ordinary, commercial 3-d printers available at a store near you. Relativity Space has the Factory of the Future. It is the house to Stargate – the world’s largest-ever 3-d printer which makes the use of custom metal alloys to serve the purpose of printing. It is capable of printing parts up to 20 feet tall and 10 feet wide ranging from rocket engines to processors.
3-D printing technology is against the traditional manufacturing process and has made rocket printing very cost-effective. In the traditional manufacturing process pieces of material are subtracted by machining, craving or milling to build a component or design. The method of working of Stargate involves melting metal wires, layer by layer to create carefully crafted minimalistic parts. Although the finished product does retain the bumpy texture which any 3-d printer printed product would, that can be machined away. In that way, those manufactured parts look just indistinguishable from any other metal. The texture which the manufactured product prices do add something around 8-10% of an extra mass to the rockets but this doesn’t put them at a disadvantage as compared to the traditional rockets.
The known advantage of 3-d printers
The first obvious advantage due to the usage of 3-d printers is the reduction of the number of parts involved. A traditional rocket could have as many as 100,000 individual parts as compared to the less than 1000 needed by a 3-d printed rocket. One can do the math themselves to see the drastic reduction that comes along with the use of a 3-d printer.
A perfect example of this could be Relativity Space’s Aeon 1 engine. Any other similar kind of engine would have taken somewhere around 2800-3000 parts but Aeon 1 took only 3 parts and was completely constructed in 9 days. Their rockets Terran 1 and Terran R have completion times of 2 months whereas any similar kind of rocket would have taken 2 years to be built completely. This iteration is the main wheel behind Relativity Space’s speed of progress in the aerospace sector. The very little amount of time that is invested in building a rocket from scratch to the finished product enables the workers, engineers, and scientists to do more tests and experiments leading to more results. The rate of failure with such carefully designed rockets can be neglected as the number of trials and errors that these engineers are allowed is very high. More tests enable the engineers to build a better model as they can eliminate the flaws till they have perfected a design. The Aeon 1 engine has completed almost 500 tests to date.
The brilliant use of Artificial Intelligence has opened the possibility of bringing down the cost of space travel. This has revolutionized the entire sector of the Aerospace industry. But the biggest factor which is responsible behind this is the rapid cut down of the cost. The possibility that going to space without having the pocket strength of millions of dollars is a possibility – this in itself is a huge achievement for Relativity Space.
The Bigger Picture
Relativity space has the aim of making their rocket Terran R fully reusable. From the smallest of the metal parts to the engine – they aim to use Terran R for more than one space mission. Even Falcon 9 rockets made by SpaceX aren’t fully reusable, but only partially. Just like the giant corporation built by Elon Musk, Relativity Space also aims to transform humans into a space-faring civilization. They want to open doors to commercial space flights and ultimately culminate into colonizing humans on the red planet.