As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases

With eyes on reuse, Relativity plans rapid transition to Terran R engines

Image of a recent Aeon 1 engine hot fire test.
Enlarge / Image of a recent Aeon 1 engine hot fire test.

Relativity Space

Relativity Space intends to use the small Aeon 1 engine it is developing to power its first rocket for only a few flights. Instead, the company plans to quickly perform a “block upgrade” for the Terran 1 rocket, which will serve as a bridge to the much larger, more capable Terran R rocket.

“We’ve always envisioned Terran 1 being a development platform,” said Tim Ellis, the co-founder and chief executive of Relativity Space, in an interview with Ars.

The California-based company, which seeks to 3D-print the majority of its rocket parts, is continuing to work toward the first launch of Terran 1 this year. Powered by nine Aeon 1 rocket engines, this small rocket has a lift capacity of 1.25 metric tons to low Earth orbit. This first Terran 1 mission will not carry any customer payloads in order to focus on the rocket itself and is called “Good Luck, Have Fun.” The name is a reference to what players say to one another before a video game begins, Ellis said.

The second flight of Terran 1 will carry a “Venture Class Launch Services” small satellite payload for NASA, awarded by the space agency in 2020 to support US-based small launch companies. The third Terran 1 mission also has a customer, but Relativity has not yet disclosed it.

Following these three demonstration flights, Relativity plans to upgrade the Terran 1 rocket by moving from a nine-engine configuration to just a single Aeon-R engine. This engine, nine of which will eventually power the reusable Terran R rocket, is projected to have about 300,000 pounds of thrust, or more than 10 times that of the Aeon-1 engine. This upgrade will provide Relativity with a more capable small launch vehicle, for less cost, with commonality on the Terran R rocket, Ellis said. It also satisfies the company’s goal of reducing part counts. For example, instead of nine engines and 18 turbopumps, the upgraded Terran 1 would use one engine and two turbopumps.

So why didn’t Relativity just start with a Terran 1 rocket powered by a single Aeon-R engine?

Building an initial rocket with nine smaller engines was “definitely not the optimum choice in hindsight to get to orbit as simply and quickly as possible for the Terran 1 program,” Ellis said. “But it’s been part of our plans to do a much larger reusable rocket for a long time. So we chose to do liquid oxygen and liquid methane engines as well as the nine-engine configuration on Terran 1 so that we could learn as a company how to do something that complex early on, before we had to go build this 20,000 kilogram payload-to-orbit vehicle.”

That larger, futuristic Terran R rocket will have a reusable first and second stage, which Ellis believes will allow his company to compete with SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket for commercial launches. Ellis said there is a lot of interest in Terran R since it was publicly announced last year, with one customer already on board and “quite a few more” expected to close on deals during the next six months. The Terran R may make its first flight in 2024.

While Relativity’s goal is getting to the Terran R, Ellis said the company has no plans to abandon the Terran 1 rocket. Relativity has the capital to carry both programs forward—after recent fundraisers, Ellis said Relativity has nearly $1 billion cash in the bank—and the large 1-million-square-foot factory it is building in Long Beach will support both vehicles.

“We’re still very, very focused on becoming an orbital company and getting Terran 1 to orbit this year,” Ellis said. “But simultaneously, I can say we’re very deep into Terran R development.”

The company also has the work force to support both projects. When I first spoke to Ellis four years ago, the company had 17 employees. Now it has a work force of 700 people and continues to grow.

Engineers and technicians at Relativity are finalizing integration work on the first and second stages of the first Terran 1 rocket to launch. The second stage will soon ship to Stennis Space Center in Mississippi for tests. Ellis said the Aeon 1 engines have completed acceptance testing. He seemed confident that the company would be ready for “Good Luck, Have Fun” to launch this year from a launch site at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida.

“We are definitely launching this year,” he said. “Yeah, we are definitely launching this year. I have no doubt about that one at this point, barring an act of nature or something going seriously wrong in stage testing.”

Source link

We will be happy to hear your thoughts

Leave a reply

Enable registration in settings - general
Compare items
  • Total (0)
Shopping cart