The world’s first 3D-printed rocket made its launch debut on Wednesday night – but failed just three minutes into the flight.
Made almost entirely of 3D-printed parts, the Terran 1 booster by California-based aerospace startup Relativity Space lifted off at 11.25pm local time from Florida’s Cape Canaveral Space Force Station.
There was nothing aboard the test flight except for the company’s first metal 3D print made six years ago.
That was just as well, as rather than soaring into orbit, the rocket ended up crashing into the Atlantic.
The startup had hoped to put the souvenir into a 125-mile-high (200km) orbit for several days before having it plunge through the atmosphere and burn up along with the upper stage of the rocket.
While the first stage proved a success following lift-off from the Florida space station, separating as planned, the upper stage appeared to ignite and then shut down, sending it crashing back down to Earth much earlier than planned.
It was the third launch attempt from what used to be a missile site.
Despite the upper stage malfunctioning, resulting in the mission not reaching orbit, “maiden launches are always exciting and today’s flight was no exception,” Relativity Space launch commentator Arwa Tizani Kelly said after Wednesday’s launch.
She added: “No one’s ever attempted to launch a 3D-printed rocket into orbit, and while we didn’t make it all the way today, we gathered enough data to show that flying 3D-printed rockets is possible.”
The majority of parts on the 110ft (33m) rocket, including its engines, were produced by the company’s huge 3D printers in Long Beach, California.
The startup said that 3D-printed metal parts made up some 85% of the rocket, adding that larger versions of the rocket will have even more and also be reusable for multiple flights.
Other space companies use 3D printing for parts, but the pieces typically make up only a small part of their rockets.
Relativity Space was started by two young aerospace engineers in 2015 and has attracted the attention of investors and venture capitalists alike.