First flight of a methane launcher
First flight of a methane launcher
© Relativity Space

First flight of a methane launcher

Every weekend, an image that made the news or caught our attention. On March 23, the American startup Relativity Space flew its Terran 1 launcher, powered by methane gas. The first stage worked perfectly, the second stage did not ignite.

A world first

On March 23, California-based startup Relativity Space, founded in Los Angeles in 2015, finally conducted the maiden flight of its two-stage Terran 1 microlancer.

This is the world's first launch vehicle made mostly of 3D printing (85 percent, with the goal of eventually reaching 95 percent), and the first to use liquefied natural gas (LNG), which is 97 percent liquid methane, mixed with liquid oxygen.

Terran 1 is 35.2 meters tall, with a diameter of 2.3 meters.

The liftoff took place at 3:25 a.m. UTC from the LC-16 launch pad at Cape Canaveral Military Base, Florida.


Beautiful blue!

Visible in the photo at liftoff and causing indefinite bluish flames, Terran 1's nine 1 Aeon engines on the first stage worked perfectly.

In contrast, the second stage's single AeronVac engine did not fire properly.

Thankfully, the " Good Luck, Have Fun " mission did not include a payload.

In operational mode, Terran will be capable of carrying just under 500 kg into low orbit (300 km) and just under 900 kg into sun-synchronous orbit.

The March 23 launch was the 43rd launch attempt and the fourth failure recorded worldwide so far this year.


Relativity Space's satisfaction

Despite the failure of Terran 1's inaugural flight, Relativity Space shared some pride on its Twitter account : " Today's launch tested Relativity's 3D printed rocket technologies, which will be used for our next vehicle, Terran R. We successfully passed Max-Q, the highest stress state of our printed structures. This is the biggest proof of our new approach to additive manufacturing. Today was a big win, with many historic firsts. We also passed the milestone of main engine shutdown and stage separation. We will evaluate the flight data and provide public updates in the coming days. "

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