The era of just tossing rockets willy nilly into space and then littering orbit, the ocean, and the occasional backyard with their remains may finally be drawing to a close. This week, Relativity Space is announcing the Terran R, a 65 meter tall entirely 3D-printed two stage launch vehicle capable of delivering 20,000 kg into low Earth orbit and then returning all of its bits and pieces safely back to the ground to be launched all over again.
Relativity Space’s special sauce is that they 3D print as close to absolutely everything as they possibly can, reducing the part count of their rockets by several orders of magnitude. While traditional rocket engines may contain thousands of parts, Relativity’s Aeon engine is composed of just three direct metal laser sintered components. This makes the engines faster and cheaper to build and far easier to assemble, which Relativity hopes will let them rapidly scale. And even though their current(ish) generation expendable launch vehicle, the Terran 1, has yet to fly (it will likely do so this year), Relativity is already thinking much, much bigger with the Terran R.
As you might expect from a system with a target launch date of 2024, the technical details on the Terran R are a bit sparse. In particular, we wanted to know exactly how Relativity plans on achieving full reusability with this design, since they’ll need to recover the first stage, the second stage, and the payload fairing, which (traditionally) is four separate bits of spacecraft that would have to be recovered separately. But the Terran R will streamline this process, both figuratively and literally.