Relativity Space focuses on Terran R medium-to-heavy payload additively manufactured rocket

April 13, 2023

Relativity Space will move its focus to the Terran R rocket, following the successful launch of its Terran 1 (Courtesy Relativity Space)
Relativity Space will move its focus to the Terran R rocket, following the successful launch of its Terran 1 (Courtesy Relativity Space)

Relativity Space, Long Beach, California, USA, has revealed its plans to accelerate the company’s development of the Terran R rocket, its reusable, additively manufactured, orbital launch vehicle for medium-to-heavy payloads, first announced in 2021. Building on experience gained through its Terran 1 programme, Relativity is advancing the Terran R to meet the growing market demand for this larger payload.

“Our first chapter as a company was to prove to the world 3D printed rockets were viable. We just did that with Terran 1. Our second chapter is to build the next great launch company with Terran R,” stated Tim Ellis, co-founder and CEO, Relativity Space. “Terran R is the most customer-centric next-generation launch vehicle. It is not a conventional rocket. This is a new breed of launch vehicle with the right payload performance, reliability, focus on speed of development, optimised reusability, focus on scalability of launch ramp rate, and ultimately cost reduction baked into the architecture design and our program plans from day one.”

He continued, “Terran 1 was like a concept car, redefining the boundaries of what is possible by developing many valuable brand-new technologies well ahead of their time. Terran R is the mass-market, huge demand product that will be amazing precisely because it brings those ‘concept car’ developments into full maturity, enabling Relativity to become a disruptive, diversified provider in solving the glaring medium-to-heavy lift launch market gap for customers with a new vehicle faster than previously possible.”

A fully stacked Terran R rocket beside its reusable first stage (Courtesy Relativity Space)
A fully stacked Terran R rocket beside its reusable first stage (Courtesy Relativity Space)

Terran R architecture

As a two-stage, 82 m rocket with a 5.5 m diameter and a 5 m payload fairing, Terran R is designed to meet the needs of commercial companies and government entities sending payloads into Low Earth Orbit (LEO), Medium Earth Orbit (MEO), Geostationary Earth Orbit (GEO), and beyond.

Terran R will prioritise first-stage reusability, with the capability of launching 23,500 kg to LEO or 5,500 kg to a Geosynchronous Transfer Orbit (GTO), both with downrange landing, or up to a maximum payload of 33,500 kg to LEO in expendable configuration.

Horizontal integration to the vehicle will be supported through a standard Payload Attach Fitting (PAF) interface, with payload integration configurations available for clusters of constellation satellites, single large satellites, or other unique spacecraft. Starting in 2026, Terran R will launch from Space Launch Complex 16, the company’s orbital launch site at Cape Canaveral, Florida.

Relativity Space’s Stargate metal Additive Manufacturing machines (Courtesy Relativity Space)
Relativity Space’s Stargate metal Additive Manufacturing machines (Courtesy Relativity Space)

Additive Manufacturing

Designed for rapid reusability and development speed, Terran R is an additively manufactured rocket, with initial versions using aluminium alloy tank straight-section barrels in a hybrid manufacturing approach, which allows Relativity to meet the rapid launch and ramp rate timelines necessary to serve market demand, including servicing Relativity’s signed customer backlog of $1.65 billion in Launch Service Agreements (LSAs) and additional several billion dollars in active customer LSA dialogue.

Each Terran R requires approximately six times more Additive Manufacturing by mass than Terran 1. AM technology for Terran R is strategically used to reduce vehicle complexity and improve manufacturability, with continued company focus on redefining what is possible with large-scale Additive Manufacturing after successfully proving the viability AM rockets with Terran 1.

Initially, Terran R will use the same proprietary additively manufactured aluminium alloy as flown on Terran 1 with a focus on supply chain scaling. However, a third-generation aluminium alloy, designed for improved performance of an orbital vehicle mission life beyond twenty reusable flights, is in active development, accelerated by the aid of artificial intelligence-based alloy discovery tools.

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Terran R’s first stage will be outfitted with thirteen additively manufactured gas generator cycle Aeon R LOx/Methane rocket engines each capable of 117,027 kg sea-level thrust, while its second stage houses a single LOx/Methane Aeon Vac engine with 126,552 kg vacuum thrust. These engines are said to benefit from Relativity’s advanced experience developing gas generator engines and vehicle stages with the oxygen/methane propellant combination.

The engine composition on the first stage is comprised of four outer fixed engines aligned underneath four landing legs, and nine-centre gimballed engines, providing enhanced reliability on vehicle ascent with engine-out capability. On both Terran R stages, the LOx propellant tanks are forward of the methane tanks, separated by a printed common dome. Subcooled cryogenic propellants are used on all parts of the vehicle except for the first stage liquid oxygen system, where subcooling is not necessary to meet performance goals. Both stages use a cryogenic helium pressurisation system to enable better press authority when engines are not turned on by reducing ullage collapse. The vehicle also features an in-house developed pneumatic pusher stage separation system.

Terran R features two near body-length aero strakes, four slider-mechanism landing legs, and four additively manufactured actuating grid fins. These features optimise first stage reusability, enabling rapidly scaled launch cadence for customers together with greater payload to orbit and lower costs versus other reusable architectures. Terran R’s first-stage architecture allows for a high angle of attack reentry which reduces propellant required for reentry burns, aerodynamic design for better reentry stability and improved control authority, and a passively actuated landing leg deployment system which is elegantly simple, lightweight, and highly operable for rapid reuse. A 5.5 m vehicle diameter also aids vehicle stability with lower requirements on landing legs. Terran R will have an electromechanical actuator (EMA)-based engine thrust vector control (TVC) system, and also use EMAs for grid fin control, in addition to in-house developed avionics and flight software. Additionally, the vehicle features a reentry heat shield on the aft end designed for rapid reusability.

Relativity Space tests its Aeon engines at NASA’s Stennis Space Center (Courtesy Relativity Space)
Relativity Space tests its Aeon engines at NASA’s Stennis Space Center (Courtesy Relativity Space)

Aeon R engine design

Terran R’s additively manufactured Aeon R engines are designed to use liquid oxygen and liquid methane propellants, be highly reusable, and feature a uniquely high-pressure gas generator cycle driving two turbopumps. Designed and manufactured in-house by Relativity, Aeon R engines are produced with reputed advancements in Additive Manufacturing technology, building on the development of the company’s prior engine, Aeon 1. These new AM capabilities enable the scale required for the higher thrust-class Aeon R engine, continuing to drive part count reductions by designing and additively manufactured singular ‘nodes of simplicity,’ streamlining many engine elements into unified builds. This design approach supports lowered costs, lowered engine complexity, greater robustness, rapid iteration, and the speed and scale of production required to serve customers.

Already a focus of development and testing efforts for the last two years, Aeon R is said to benefit from the heritage of its smaller predecessor, Aeon 1, which is used onboard Relativity’s Terran 1 rocket. Migrating many of the same propulsion system architecture decisions from Aeon 1 to Aeon R has enabled a high rate of iterative design and fast-tracked much of the Aeon R test programme.

Since mid-2022, Relativity has been underway testing all Aeon R combustion devices at NASA Stennis Space Center – including the main Thrust Chamber Assembly (TCA), gas generator (GG), and gas-gas ignition system – at full scale and 100% power with high combustion efficiency. All engine active valves are developed in-house, with all valves produced, successfully actuated, and in development testing. In February 2023, the company completed its first full build of an Aeon R engine, and turbopump testing will begin in the coming months ahead of full engine testing this year.

Building Terran R’s infrastructure

Terran R’s production base will be in Long Beach, CA, at Relativity’s headquarters which is home to its fourth-generation Stargate Additive Manufacturing machines. At production run rate from this single factory, the company estimates its ability to initially produce and fly more than forty-five Terran Rs annually, with adaptive software-driven production infrastructure able to build more or less first or second stage components based on reuse rate and customer demand over time. Stage and engine testing for Terran R will take place at Relativity’s test facilities, located at NASA Stennis Space Center in Mississippi.

Announced in October 2022, Relativity is actively building additional new test stands and infrastructure on a more than 150-acre expansion to support a high volume of Terran R testing as vehicle production and launch cadence increases. The completion of a new dual-bay vertical engine test stand is expected by autumn 2023, in addition to the multiple test areas at each of Relativity’s E2 and E4 sites repurposed from Terran 1 development.

Leveraging Space Launch Complex 16, Relativity’s current orbital launch site at Space Force Base in Cape Canaveral, FL, the company plans to build a secondary launch pad adjacent to its existing Terran 1 test and launch facilities. After completion of production and initial structural proto-qualification testing in Long Beach, Terran R vehicles will travel by sea through the Panama Canal to Mississippi for testing and then Florida for launch. Reused boosters will stay in Florida and be rapidly refurbished for additional launches.

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