First 3D Printed Rocket, Created by Trojan Engineers, Soars Into the Upper Atmosphere - USC Viterbi | School of Engineering (2023)

At 110 feet, it was one of the largest 3D printed metal objects on Earth.

Last night, after a fiery launch from Cape Canaveral, it was a blue-white streak in the Florida sky.

In a significant milestone for the future of space exploration, Terran 1 became the world’s first 3D printed rocket to achieve launch. It was the culmination of a 12 year journey between alumni Tim Ellis (B.S. ’12, M.S. ’13) and Jordan Noone (B.S. ’14), the former leaders of the USC Rocket Propulsion Laboratory (RPL) who co-founded Relativity Space, now valued at $4.2 billion, in 2015.

First 3D Printed Rocket, Created by Trojan Engineers, Soars Into the Upper Atmosphere - USC Viterbi | School of Engineering (1)

The methane fueled rocket, Terran 1, goes supersonic in the Florida night sky. Photos: Trevor Mahlmann/Relativity Space.

The Terran 1 rocket — 85 percent 3D printed — augurs huge changes to the space industry in terms of cost, speed, less waste and greater design efficiency.

Though the launch, dubbed “Good Luck, Have Fun,” was unable to reach space in its first attempt — something no private space company has been able to achieve — it scored a number of firsts.

According to the company: “Today’s launch proved Relativity’s 3D-printed rocket technologies that will enable our next vehicle, Terran R. We successfully made it through Max-Q, the highest stress state on our printed structures. This is the biggest proof point for our novel additive manufacturing approach. Today is a huge win, with many historic firsts. We also progressed through main engine cutoff and stage separation. We will assess flight data and provide public updates over the coming days.”

(Video) USC Viterbi - Aerospace & Mechanical Engineering Faculty Roundtable - Fall 2021

First 3D Printed Rocket, Created by Trojan Engineers, Soars Into the Upper Atmosphere - USC Viterbi | School of Engineering (2)

A glimpse of Terran 1’s nine, 3D printed Aeon engines during the ascent.

Said Noone: “Relativity’s 3D printing approach with Terran 1, the world’s first 3D printed rocket, draws forward aerospace manufacturing into the digital era. This launch opens the door for all the potential future applications of that development, such as human space flight.”

According to Ellis, Relativity’s CEO, while traditional rockets use hundreds of thousands or even millions of parts, Relativity uses less than a thousand. The company, whose goal is to 3D print 95% of their future rockets, uses their giant Stargate 3D printers to produce the engines as well as the primary structure of Terran 1. Like a futuristic Model T assembly line crossed, the company hopes to create a rocket from raw materials every 60 days.

In order for this to become a reality, Ellis and Noone had to not only build a rocket, they had to reinvent advanced manufacturing.

“We had to invent the actual process itself,” said Noone, who left his role as Relativity CTO in 2020, but remains an executive advisor. “It was kind of like building a 3D printing company and building a rocket company at the same time under one roof – each a very complex thing to do! That was the big bet: could we do both at the same time?”

In order to 3-D print rockets, they first had to create the Stargate, the world’s largest metal 3D printers. The fourth generation Stargate printers — named after a 26th Century technology in the video game “StarCraft” — defy traditional printing constraints by moving horizontally rather than vertically.

For Ellis, even as Relativity builds more rockets, he hopes to one day 3D print all the machinery that would sustain the first Martian colonists, including “the first rocket made on Mars.”

(Video) USC Viterbi Aerospace & Mechanical Engineering Faculty Roundtable - Fall 2020

First 3D Printed Rocket, Created by Trojan Engineers, Soars Into the Upper Atmosphere - USC Viterbi | School of Engineering (3)

Tim Ellis, co-founder and CEO of Relativity Space, seen here on USC graduation day, was named to MIT Technology Review’s list of “35 Innovators Under 35” in 2019.

First 3D Printed Rocket, Created by Trojan Engineers, Soars Into the Upper Atmosphere - USC Viterbi | School of Engineering (4)

Jordan Noone (left), seen here during a visit by Neil deGrasse Tyson to the USC Rocket Propulsion Laboratory in 2013, became the first student in the world to obtain a FAA launch license to fly a rocket to space. The Relativity co-founder and former CTO is now general partner in Embedded Ventures, investing in a portfolio of space-related startups.

The duo first met in 2010 as students at the USC Viterbi School of Engineering.

Ellis, who was then a USC Viterbi junior, recalls his first meeting with Noone: “I still remember he joined USC’s Rocket Propulsion Lab, and I think he wasn’t even 18 yet and said he was going to run the whole lab. I just thought that level of cockiness and ambition was sort of rare, but he had the talent to back it up! What he promised, he delivered on. USC Rocket Propulsion Lab went on to become the first student group in the world to launch a rocket to space.”

That 2019 launch — the world first’s successful student built and designed rocket to reach outer space — was but a foretaste of what was to come.

(Video) Engineering News at USC Viterbi: Episode 41

Said Yannis Yortsos, dean of the USC Viterbi School: “Jordan and Tim represent the very best of USC: visionary, entrepreneurial and creative. Last night’s launch is merely the fulfillment of the incredible promise they showed as student leaders.”

After graduation, they would talk on the phone during their commutes to and from work. Noone remembers driving home in his Volkswagen Jetta, sometimes calling Ellis at 2 a.m. He’d be getting off work at SpaceX in Hawthorne, while Ellis would be leaving his job at Blue Origin — Jeff Bezos’ space company — in Kent, Washington.

Both their companies had “lukewarm interest” in 3D printing technology. While many companies used 3D printing for some elements of their rockets, nobody was thinking about it quite on the scale of Ellis and Noone.

At SpaceX, Noone recalls, the rule companywide was “no science projects.”

“And 3D printing development was, admittedly a science project,” said Noone. “We’re talking non trivial, very foundational, scientific physics level development of the printing process.”

And so, after a cold email to investor Marc Cuban (subject line: “space is sexy, 3D printing an entire rocket”) netted a half a million dollar commitment, Ellis and Noone were ready for their science project.

One of the early relics in Relativity lore was on the back of a Starbucks napkin — then a popular hangout for the two admitted “caffeine addicts” — where they sketched out their initial vision of a Martian voyage, powered by 3D printed rockets.

Said Ellis: “I always thought (Noone) was a good foil to me. He was more of a pessimist and a realist and kind of a stickler for details, and that was very helpful in formulating our early ideas. We balanced each other.”

That balance eventually led to the birth of a SpaceX rival, one that has already pre-sold an enviable $1.65 billion in space launches.

Now, with this successful launch, Ellis may soon move forward with Terran R, a fully reusable, medium to heavy 3-D printed rocket.

In July 2022, Relativity announced their first commercial mission to Mars in partnership with Impulse Space. With an anticipated launch window in 2024, the historic partnership advances both companies’ shared goal of a multiplanetary existence for humanity. Relativity’s role: to launch Impulse’s Mars Cruise Vehicle and Mars Lander in Terran R from Cape Canaveral, FL.

For Noone, he’s looking to build an entire portfolio of space-related companies.

As general partner of Embedded Ventures, one of about a dozen venture capital firms looking to invest in the next “space unicorn,” Noone is joined by Jenna Bryant, co-founder and general partner and CEO, in identifying new startups in the realm of “national security space technology.”

Last month, Embedded launched its inaugural $100 million fund, and they’re now deploying capital. In 2021, they signed a first of its kind cooperative agreement with the U.S. Space Force to spotlight dual use space startups that could serve both commercial and defense customers.

Noone and Bryant are also investing heavily in the next generation of talent.

Concerned by the disparity of women in aerospace — as of 2021, just 12.5% of all aerospace engineers in the United States were women — Bryant and Noone approached the USC Viterbi School. The result? A generous 2022 gift from the two, resulting in the rebirth of Project Payload, a USC Viterbi summer program offering middle school girls a hands-on, problem-based learning experience in the fields of aerospace engineering and computer science. The program culminated with the launch of a high-altitude balloon at STARBASE in Los Alamitos.

Recently, NASA announced a return to the moon with its Artemis (sister of Apollo) missions as early as 2025. The inaugural missions will land the first woman and person of color on the moon. Artemis will also establish the first long-term presence on the moon.

Eventually, NASA, like Relativity, seeks a human voyage to Mars.

And if Noone and Bryant have their way, these young women from Project Payload, only 6th to 8th graders now, may be among the first crew and explorers to the Red Planet.

Published on March 23rd, 2023

Last updated on March 23rd, 2023


What happened to the first 3D-printed rocket? ›

Terran 1, a 3D-printed rocket, launched, but failed to reach orbit on Wednesday A rocket made almost entirely of 3D-printed parts made its debut launch Wednesday night, passing a critical milestone. But it failed after three minutes of flight, crashing into the ocean.

Who made the first 3D-printed rocket? ›

In a significant milestone for the future of space exploration, Terran 1 became the world's first 3D printed rocket to achieve launch. It was the culmination of a 12 year journey between alumni Tim Ellis (B.S. '12, M.S. '13) and Jordan Noone (B.S.

What was the first 3D-printed rocket in the world? ›

Terran 1 – the world's first 3D-printed rocket – lifted off last night (at just before 11:30 pm ET on March 22, 2023), from Cape Canaveral Space Force Base on Florida's Atlantic coast.

When was the first 3D-printed rocket made? ›

Relativity Space successfully launched a 3D-printed rocket on Wednesday March 24, 2023.

Why did the 3D-printed rocket fail? ›

However, the rocket failed to reach orbit due to a failure with the upper stage engine after a successful stage separation. The rocket, which was almost entirely 3D-printed, is an industry first.

Did the launch debut of 3D-printed rocket ends in failure? ›

A rocket made almost entirely of 3D-printed parts made its launch debut Wednesday night, lifting off amid fanfare but failing three minutes into flight — far short of orbit. There was nothing aboard Relativity Space's test flight except for the company's first metal 3D print made six years ago.

Was the 3D-printed rocket a success? ›

After two scrubbed attempts, Terran—the aerospace startup's 110-foot rocket largely composed of 3D-printed materials—completed its first stage liftoff from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station on Wednesday night. Unfortunately, it failed to reach its intended 125-mile-high orbit.

What was the first 3D-printed rocket in relativity? ›

Terran 1 also became the first nearly entirely 3D printed rocket to fly and prove 3D printing is viable by successfully passing Max-Q, main engine cut-off (MECO) and second stage separation – marking several historic milestones not just for the aerospace industry, but for humanity.

What is the first invention of 3D printing called? ›

Charles Hull is the inventor of stereolithography, the first commercial rapid prototyping technology commonly known as 3D printing.

What was the first 3D printed object in space? ›

Mike typed up some lines of code in his office and beamed them – I've always wanted to say that – back to the space station, where the printer promptly made a copy. There it is, the first object designed on Earth and printed in space, a ratchet wrench.

What was the first 3D printing technology used in space? ›

In 2014, Made In Space, Inc. (MIS), with NASA, changed the world by manufacturing the first object in space with the 3D Printing in Zero-G Experiment (3DP). This first print signaled new possibilities for manufacturing objects in space.

What is the 3D printed rocket made of? ›

It is a combination of copper, chromium and niobium.

How long did it take to 3D print the rocket? ›

RELATED STORIES. The ship was created by Relativity Space, a California company that wants to revolutionize the way the world's rockets are built. Its creators used huge 3D printers capable of making massive parts, and can print similar rockets -- including the engines – in just 60 days.

What is a major downfall to 3D printing? ›

Limited Materials

This is due to the fact that not all metals or plastics can be temperature controlled enough to allow 3D printing. In addition, many of these printable materials cannot be recycled and very few are food safe.

What problems did 3D printing solve? ›

Sustainability – In a time of climate emergency, 3D printing is seen as an extremely energy-efficient technology. It provides much less waste, it can save in transporting finished products which combined with its efficiency gives it a reduced carbon footprint.

What is the reason that 3D prints can fail during a print? ›

The most common cause is simply that the print just doesn't bond to the surface of the print platform. The filament needs a textured base in order to adhere, so to solve the issue you'll need to create a better bonding surface. An unlevel print platform can be another major issue.

Why did NASA stop launching rockets? ›

All of these factors — high costs, slow turnaround, few customers, and a vehicle (and agency) that had major safety problems — combined to make the Bush administration realize it was time for the Space Shuttle Program to retire.

Why did the rocket launch get Cancelled? ›

SpaceX postponed plans to test the world's largest rocket on Monday after noting a frozen pressure valve. The commercial spaceflight company SpaceX scrapped its first scheduled test flight of Starship, a huge, stainless-steel rocket that could one day carry humans to the moon, Mars and beyond.

What is one of the strangest things that has been 3D-printed? ›

Microscopic race car

There's a bizarre creation courtesy of researchers at the Vienna University of Technology. They created a 3D printer that can create near-microscopic objects. To demonstrate its abilities, the researchers printed a tiny race car that's just about the width of a hair follicle.

What is the most successful rocket in history? ›

The Saturn V was a rocket NASA built to send people to the moon. A Heavy Lift Vehicle, it was the most powerful rocket that had ever flown successfully. The Saturn V was used in the Apollo program in the 1960s and 1970s and was also used to launch the Skylab space station.

What is the largest thing that has been 3D-printed? ›

Largest 3D Printed Object

At Oak Ridge National Lab, researchers have built a “trim-and-drill” tool using 3D printing technology that weights 1,650 lbs, is of an SUV size, and measures 17.5 feet in length, 5.5 feet in width, and 1.5 feet in height.

What was the 1st first rocket in space? ›

The Sputnik 1 spacecraft was the first artificial satellite successfully placed in orbit around the Earth and was launched from Baikonur Cosmodrome at Tyuratam (370 km southwest of the small town of Baikonur) in Kazakhstan, then part of the former Soviet Union.

When was 3D printing first used in aerospace? ›

Generally speaking, the Aerospace industry was one of the earliest adopters of 3D printing technology with initial use recorded back in the late 1980s. Nowadays it is still considered the industry which has the highest rate of adoption of 3D printing technologies.

What is the name of 3D-printed rocket? ›

First 3D-printed rocket: Terran 1

Relativity Space's first rocket, the Terran 1, is the world's first 3D-printed rocket. Its first flight — an expendable test launch dubbed "Good Luck, Have Fun" — lifted off from Florida's Cape Canaveral Space Force Station on March 22, 2023.

How did 3D printing change the world? ›

One exciting way that 3D printing is changing the world is through advancements and applications in healthcare. In recent years, 3D printing has been used to create custom prosthetics, implants, and even human tissue. This technology gives surgeons and patients new opportunities to develop personalized treatment plans.

When did the 3D printing industry explode? ›

The 2000s: 3D Printing Explodes

While there were iterative changes and innovations related to 3D printing throughout the early 2000s, 2005 marked the year that 3D printing went on the path to becoming more mainstream. Many of the early patents began to expire, and inventors and entrepreneurs sought to take advantage.

How could 3D printing be used to help people in the event of a natural disaster? ›

Deployed into disaster zones 3D printers could provide simple but durable shelters and help the rebuilding effort. 3D printed buildings are 30 times faster and up to 70% cheaper than their handcrafted alternatives.

Which object was 3D printed on the International Space Station? ›

The object, a printhead faceplate, is engraved with names of the organizations that collaborated on this space station technology demonstration: NASA and Made In Space, Inc., the space manufacturing company that worked with NASA to design, build and test the 3-D printer.

What 3D printed objects are used in space? ›

3D Printing is Used to Make Satellites

Additive manufacturing is also increasingly being used in space is for satellites. Currently, there are projects from a number of companies including Boeing and Airbus which have used additive manufacturing to create increasingly complex, lighter parts for their satellites.

When was 3D printing first used in architecture? ›

3D Printing in Architecture: History

3D printing in architecture has been around for longer than one might assume. It was way back in 1981 that Japanese inventor Hideo Kodama began experimenting with printing using materials other than ink. This is the earliest recorded attempt at 3D printing.

How did they make the 3D printed rocket? ›

85% of the rocket was printed using huge 3D metal printers. The 20,500-pound rocket stands 110 feet high and 7.5 feet wide. The rocket uses nine custom-built engines to boost it off of the ground and will be able to carry a payload to a low earth orbit of about 2,800 pounds.

What is a 3D printed rocket engine? ›

The Agnilet rocket engine is a “semi-cryogenic” engine. It uses a mixture of liquid kerosene at room temperature and supercold liquid oxygen to propel itself. Recommended for you. 1China to test out 3D printing technology on moon to build habitats.

What is the largest 3D-printed rocket? ›

The Terran 1, recognised as the largest 3D-printed object to be launched, took off from the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida on 22nd March, signifying a significant milestone for additive manufacturing within the aerospace sector.

Why does the 3D printing process take so long to accomplish? ›

3D printing requires time due to how complex it is, how it is conducted layer by layer. There is no technology to create objects in the blink of an eye. The speed of printing is dependent on the quality of the print-out. But this shouldn't be considered a disadvantage in light of the enormous potential of a 3D printer.

How long would it take to 3D print a human? ›

At first, researchers scan the patient's organ to determine personalised size and shape. Then they create a scaffold to give cells something to grow on in three dimensions and add cells from the patient to this scaffold. That's painstakingly labour-intensive work and could take as long as eight weeks.

What happened to the Terran 1 rocket? ›

Terran 1's first and only launch took place March 23, 2023 from Cape Canaveral. It passed max q and reached space but failed to achieve orbit due to a failure of the second stage. Following the failed launch, Relativity retired the rocket in favor of developing the much larger, reusable Terran R vehicle.

What went wrong with Terran 1? ›

Relativity Space's first Terran 1 rocket successfully got off the launch pad March 22 but failed to reach orbit because of an upper stage malfunction.

Where did Terran 1 fall? ›

There were no satellites on the Terran 1 rocket's first test flight. Debris from the rocket likely fell into the Atlantic Ocean around 400 miles east of Cape Canaveral.

Why did Terran 1 not reach orbit? ›

Relativity said during the launch that they encountered an anomaly with the second stage engines after main engine cut-off and stage separation, which meant Terran 1 didn't continue on its intended path to low-Earth orbit.

What was the first 3D-printed rocket lifts off but fails to reach orbit? ›

An almost fully 3D-printed rocket lifted off from Cape Canaveral on Wednesday evening, but ultimately failed to reach orbit. Despite this, the Terran-1 passed key objectives and showed the resilience of its model, according to the company behind the project. Read more on this story.

Where did the 3D-printed rocket land? ›

In a third attempt, the world's first 3D-printed rocket made it off the launch pad Wednesday night but failed to reach orbit and eventually crashed into the Atlantic Ocean in a key test flight by a California-based aerospace startup.

What was the first rocket to leave Earth? ›

The Sputnik 1 spacecraft was the first artificial satellite successfully placed in orbit around the Earth and was launched from Baikonur Cosmodrome at Tyuratam (370 km southwest of the small town of Baikonur) in Kazakhstan, then part of the former Soviet Union.

Who owns Terran 1 rocket? ›

Relativity Space is developing manufacturing technologies, launch vehicles, and rocket engines for commercial orbital launch services. The company is notable for manufacturing most of their Terran 1 and Terran R rocket parts using 3D printing.

Will Terran 1 be reusable? ›

The six-year-old company is making other significant changes to Terran R: The rocket will no longer be completely reusable, but fitted with an expendable second stage.

Why did the terrans leave Earth? ›

Years ago a group known as the Terrans left Earth in search of a life free of persecution. Now they live alongside the Tlic, an alien race who face extinction; their only chance of survival is to plant their larvae inside the bodies of the humans.

How many times spacex failed? ›

Of these, 3 Falcon 1, 2 Falcon 9 and 1 Starship launches were complete failures (granted the starship orbital flight attempt was the very first of its kind and somewhat exceeded expectations for its test) and 1 Falcon 9 launch were partial failures.

Is Earth in the Terran system? ›

In our solar system, Earth, Mars, Mercury and Venus are terrestrial, or rocky, planets. For planets outside our solar system, those between half of Earth's size to twice its radius are considered terrestrial and others may be even smaller.

How long do Terrans live? ›

The average terran is 1.8m tall. Maximum human life expectancy is at most 150 years, without any mental degradation, though few terrans live over a century and terrans over the age of 80 are still considered old.

How many satellites in orbit are dead? ›

Currently, there are more than 1,800 defunct satellites in lower orbit. Under the current rules, the United States requires satellites to deorbit — or burn up in Earth's atmosphere — after 25 years.

What is the oldest spacecraft still in orbit? ›

It was launched 17 March 1958. Vanguard 1 was the first satellite to have solar electric power. Although communications with the satellite were lost in 1964, it remains the oldest human-made object still in orbit, together with the upper stage of its launch vehicle.

Why do satellites not collide to the ground? ›

Collisions are rare because when a satellite is launched, it is placed into an orbit designed to avoid other satellites. But orbits can change over time. And the chances of a crash increase as more and more satellites are launched into space.

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