Skip to main content

World's first 3D-printed rocket can be built in just 60 days


An ambitious plan to send payloads into space is riding on a 3D-printed rocket.

The rocket scheduled to launch from Florida Wednesday looks a lot like others, but at its base is a subtle giveaway: "Printed in the U.S.A."

It's the largest metal object that has ever been 3D printed, those behind its creation say.

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.

"So 85 per cent of the rocket by mass that's sitting on the pad right now is 3D-printed," said Josh Brost, senior vice-president of revenue operations at Relativity Space.

In addition to being the world's first 3D-printed rocket, it's potentially the first rocket to use liquid oxygen and liquid methane propellants, Brost said, describing these as "the propellants of the future for what will be reusable rockets."

Such a ship can come together in a fraction of the time, and at a quarter of the cost, Relativity Space says.

Because the 10-storey-tall rocket is mostly printed, it has 100 times fewer parts, according to its creators. It was designed to carry small sattelites into space for customers like NASA.

Its engines have been tested extensively, but Wednesday's launch will be the first time the company has tried to reach orbit.

"We have the ability to demonstrate a brand new way of manufacturing large aerospace systems that has the potential to make access to space less expensive, more frequent and reliable. And that definitely has positive impacts on people's lives on Earth, and will for years to come," Brost said.

"Things are looking great and the team is feeling good and excited to get the opportunity to test the system in flight."

The company's goals for the first flight include proving that a 3D-printed rocket can survive the conditions, including the first-stage ascent, which Brost describes as "the point of maximum dynamic pressure."

"Making it through that will be the ultimate validation that our 3D-printed structures are up to the task of operating the launch system," he said.

"Lots of firsts on 3D printing and demonstrating the viability of that technology."

The company hopes this project is just the beginning. It's also planning a much bigger and reusable rocket that will be 95 per cent 3D printed, hoping that this vessel will eventually go to Mars.

Hoping to boldly go where no printed object has gone before, those behind the rocket have aptly named its first mission "Good Luck Have Fun."

With files from Reuters and The Associated Press Top Stories

Local Spotlight