Relativity at the last moment calls off launch attempt of Terran 1 rocket after briefly igniting engines

Key Points
  • 3D-printing specialist Relativity Space postponed the latest attempt at its debut rocket launch on Saturday.
  • The company’s Terran 1 rocket briefly ignited its engines before shutting down.
  • Relativity is attempting to launch the rocket from Cape Canaveral, Florida.
The nine Aeon engines of the Terran 1 rocket ignite briefly before shutting down during a launch attempt on Mar. 11, 2023.
Relativity Space

3D-printing specialist Relativity Space postponed its debut launch on Saturday, stopping one of its attempts in the final second of the countdown after igniting the rocket's engines.

Relativity's system triggered a launch abort with just 0.5 seconds remaining before liftoff, which shut down the rocket's engines after briefly firing up.

The company's Terran 1 rocket is attempting from LC-16, a launchpad at the U.S. Space Force's facility in Cape Canaveral, Florida. The mission is called "Good Luck, Have Fun," and aims to successfully reach orbit and demonstrate the viability of the company's ambitious manufacturing approach.

The company's Terran 1 rocket stands on its launchpad at LC-16 in Cape Canaveral, Florida during a launch attempt on Mar. 11, 2023.
John Kraus / Relativity Space

Relativity made multiple attempts to launch during a three hour window – and worked through a variety of obstacles, including estimated high winds the upper atmosphere and a boat that came too close to the launch range – before calling a "scrub" for the attempt, meaning it is postponed to a later day.

"Thanks for playing," Relativity's launch director Clay Walker said on the company's webcast.

Saturday marked the second day that Relativity has attempted to debut Terran 1. On Wednesday, a ground equipment valve malfunctioned, which affected the temperature of the propellant that was being pumped into the rocket, but the company said before Saturday's attempts that it has since fixed the valve issue.

Relativity said the rocket looked "healthy" after an initial review of data. In a series of tweets, the company said that one abort was caused by the rocket's automatic software, which was then updated, and another abort was due to slightly low fuel pressure in its upper stage.

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While many space companies utilize 3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing, Relativity has effectively gone all-in on the approach. The company believes its approach will make building orbital-class rockets much faster than traditional methods, requiring thousands less parts and enabling changes to be made via software. The Long Beach, California-based venture aims to create rockets from raw materials in as little as 60 days.

Terran 1 stands 110 feet high, with nine engines powering the lower first stage, and one engine powering the upper second stage. Its Aeon engines are 3D-printed, with the rocket using liquid oxygen and liquid natural gas as its two fuel types. The company says that 85% of this first Terran 1 rocket was 3D-printed.

The company's Terran 1 rocket stands on its launchpad at LC-16 in Cape Canaveral, Florida ahead of the inaugural launch attempt.
Trevor Mahlmann / Relativity Space

Relativity prices Terran 1 at $12 million per launch. It's designed to carry about 1,250 kilograms to low Earth orbit. That puts Terran 1 in the "medium lift" section of the U.S. launch market, between Rocket Lab's Electron and SpaceX's Falcon 9 in both price and capability.

Wednesday's debut for Terran 1 is not carrying a payload or satellite inside the rocket. The company emphasized the launch represents a prototype.

In a series of tweets before the mission, Ellis shared his expectations for the mission: He noted that reaching a milestone of maximum aerodynamic pressure about 80 seconds after liftoff would be a "key inflection" point for proving the company's technology.

The exterior of "The Wormhole" factory.
Relativity Space

Relativity is already working on the successor to Terran 1, a larger, reusable line of rockets called Terran R.

The company has raised over $1.3 billion in capital to date at a $4.2 billion valuation. It continues to expand its footprint – with a headquarters and factory in California, engine testing facilities in Mississippi, and the launch site in Florida.