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.
Relativity Space’s Terran 1 booster lifted off at 11:25 p.m. ET from Florida’s Cape Canaveral Space Force Station.
Several minutes into the flight, mission controllers reported the 110-foot rocket experienced an anomaly with its upper stage that prevented it from successfully reaching orbit. The upper stage is designed to ignite separate engines midflight to boost it into space.
The startup wanted to put the rocket – dubbed “Good Luck, Have Fun” or “GLHF” – into a 125-mile-high orbit for several days before having it plunge through the atmosphere and burn up along with the upper stage of the rocket.
The first stage was accomplished following liftoff from Cape Canaveral and separated as planned. In the end, the upper stage appeared to ignite and then shut down, sending it crashing into the Atlantic.
Overall, “GLHF” was successful beyond what Relativity had initially hoped.
Third launch attempt
It was the third launch attempt from what once was a missile site. Relativity Space came within a half-second of blasting off earlier this month, with the rocket’s engines igniting before abruptly shutting down.
An initial launch attempt March 8 was scrubbed “due to exceeding launch commit criteria limits for propellant thermal conditions on stage 2,” the company said. Relativity Space’s second launch attempt for the rocket on March 11 was halted for two automated aborts, the company said on Twitter.
What was the 3D-printed rocket’s mission?
The goal of the launch was to prove the 7.5-feet diameter, 3D-printed vehicle is durable enough for launch and space flight.
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Liftoff and getting over the Atlantic and passing Max-Q – the point in the flight when the rocket would be at maximum stress – would “be a big inflection point,” the company said earlier this month in a discussion of launch success on Twitter. “Why? Because it’s the phase of flight where the structural loads on the vehicle are the highest, passing this point in flight proves our hypothesis: 3D printed rockets are structurally viable!”
This launch is just the first step in Relativity’s interstellar plan to go to Mars.
Last year, the company announced plans with Impulse Space of El Segundo, California, to develop a Mars Cruise Vehicle and Mars Lander on a Terran R rocket no earlier than 2024.
Contributing: Mike Snider, USA TODAY; The Associated Press
Natalie Neysa Alund covers breaking and trending news for USA TODAY. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter @nataliealund.