It is no longer unusual for people to use 3D printing to produce small or portable things. However, few people can use this technology to make giants, especially rockets – which sounds like a fantasy. However, Tim Ellis, founder and CEO of startup Relativity Space, doesn't think so.
At Relativity Space's Los Angeles headquarters, there are four of the world's largest metal 3D printers that make rocket parts day and night. Moreover, the company's first 3D printed rocket is about to be sent to Mississippi for testing.
Relativity Space's latest model of the patented 3D printer is called "Stargate", 30 feet high, with two huge robotic arms that protrude from the body of the machine like tentacles. The Terren-1 rocket is Relativity Space's first rocket; 95% of the rocket will be manufactured by Stargate 3D printers by quality, only some electronic devices, cables, moving parts and rubber washers will not be printed. come out.
To create a 3D printed rocket, Tim Ellis and his team had to rethink how the rocket was designed. This will result in the Terren-1 rocket's parts being 100 times less than comparable rockets; for example, its engine Aeon consists of only 100 components, and a typical liquid fuel rocket may have thousands of components.
Tim Ellis claims that by integrating and optimizing parts, Relativity Space will be able to complete the transition from "a bunch of raw materials" to "boarding the launch pad" within 60 days - at least in theory. However, Relativity Space has not assembled the final Terren-1 rocket, and it will not be launched until 2021 at the earliest.
After the assembly, the Terren-1 rocket will be up to 100 feet high and will be able to carry 2,800 pounds of satellites into low Earth orbit - in this respect, it is stronger than a small satellite launcher, but much smaller than the large one. Rocket payload capabilities, such as SpaceX's Falcon 9. Therefore, the Terren-1 rocket will be particularly suitable for carrying medium-sized satellites.
Shagun Sachdeva, senior analyst at space consulting firm Northern Sky Research, said, "The comprehensive testing of the Terren-1 rocket will be a milestone for Tim Ellis and his team to prove this new technology." Because after that, the company can start to solve other problems, such as whether it needs to launch a new rocket every 60 days.
In fact, Relativity Space is not the only rocket company that uses 3D printing technology. Companies such as SpaceX, Blue Origin, and Rocket Lab also use this technology to print specific parts. However, Tim Ellis believes that the aerospace industry needs to think longer, and the 3D printed rocket is the key to humanity's future transportation infrastructure between Mars and the Earth.
Tim Ellis, 29, and Jordan Noone, 26, the co-founder of Relativity Space, have been making rockets since college. They worked at the University of Southern California's famous rocket team, and later at Blue Origin and SpaceX. Inauguration; working at Blue Origin, Tim Ellis began to envision a robotic rocket factory that barely needed human hands. However, this goal needs to be achieved through a giant 3D printer.
As Tim Ellis wanted, he later founded Relativity Space and owns his own 3D printer and rocket factory. The first version of the Stargate 3D printer is approximately 15 feet high and consists of three robotic arms; the arm is used to weld metal, monitor printer progress, and correct defects.
Now, Relativity Space has a new version of the Stargate 3D printer, which is twice the height of the original, has only two robotic arms, but can do more than the previous "three arms"; in addition, It can also print larger components at once, such as rocket fairings or fuel cells. It is reported that the next version of the Stargate 3D printer will be doubled again, which will help the company to build larger rockets.
According to Tim Ellis, the real secret of Relativity Space's rockets is the use of artificial intelligence to "tell" what a 3D printer should do. Before printing, the staff will simulate the print results and then train the 3D printer to reduce the defect rate. As new components are continuously manufactured, machine learning algorithms are getting better until it can finally correct the effects of 3D printing.
In the future, 3D printers will recognize their mistakes and control cutting and adding metal themselves until they produce a perfect part. Tim Ellis sees this as the key to bringing automated manufacturing to the rest of the world. He said: "The Stargate 3D printer is making rocket parts."
However, not everyone agrees with the way Relativity Space makes rockets. Startup company Launcher Space is also using 3D printing technology, but the company's CEO Max Haot believes: "In the aerospace industry, everyone is using 3D printing technology as quickly as possible, especially in the field of engine components. The problem is Is 3D printing worthwhile compared to traditional rocket manufacturing methods? We are negative about this issue."
Relativity Space has signed hundreds of millions of dollars in agreements with several major satellite operators, including Telesat LEO and Momentus; Tribe Capital partner Arjun Sethi has also invested in Relativity Space, and he also believes Amazon's AWS cloud Services can provide critical infrastructure for smaller space companies.
Sachdeva of Northern Sky Research believes that Relativity Space's expertise in aerospace 3D printing may exceed the rocket's own enduring value. Sachdeva said: "This is a considerable improvement for the entire industry."